Protests against China’s covid lockdowns erupt after Xinjiang fire


Protests erupted in cities and campuses across China this weekend; Frustrated and angry citizens protested against the government’s “Zero Covid” policy and leaders took to the streets in a dramatic fashion to implement it.

Residents of China’s most populous city, Shanghai, rallied late Saturday night and early Sunday to call for an end to the pandemic lockdowns, chanting “We want freedom!” And “Open Xinjiang, Open All China!” According to witnesses at the event. Even more dramatic is the public anger directed at the government’s top leader, with groups of protesters chanting, “Step down Xi Jinping!” They sang. and “Down with the Communist Party!”

“There were people everywhere,” said Chen, a 29-year-old Shanghai resident who arrived at the scene around 2 a.m. Sunday. “At first people were clamoring to lift the lockdown in Xinjiang, and then ‘Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party step down!’ it becomes!” He only gave his name due to security concerns.

The immediate trigger for protests at universities in Beijing, Xi’an and Nanjing on Saturday was a deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in northwest China. 10 people, including three children, died after emergency fire services failed to reach an apartment building on fire. Residents blamed the shutdown-related measures for hampering rescue efforts.

Demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Nov. 27 as protests against China’s Covid restrictions erupted for a third day and spread to various cities. (Video: Reuters)

Officials on Friday denied that the Covid-19 restrictions were the cause, saying some residents “have a very weak ability to fend for themselves”, prompting further ridicule and anger on Chinese social media platforms. Residents of Urumqi, one of the most heavily policed ​​cities in China, protested on Friday as a result of widespread security measures imposed in China. Many waved the Chinese national flag and called for the complete lifting of the lockdowns.

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That unrest spread. On Saturday, Shanghai residents gathered for a candle-lighting ceremony on Wulumuki Middle Street, named after Urumqi, which turned into a rally. Photos sent to The Washington Post by a photographer at the scene show protesters holding blank sheets of paper – a symbolic protest against widespread censorship in the country – and laying flowers and candles for victims as police look on.

A man picked up a piece of paper with the number ’10’ written in Uyghur and Chinese about the 10 victims killed in Urumqi. The people started passing around the blank pages.

“Everybody was holding it,” said photographer Meng, who gave only his name due to security concerns. “No one said anything, but we all knew what it meant. Delete all you want. You cannot censor what is not said.”

Such demonstrations are rare in China, where authorities move quickly to stamp out all forms of protest. Authorities are particularly wary of university demonstrations, where pro-democracy demonstrations spread across the country in 1989, leading to bloody violence and massacres around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

With recorded cases of Covid, China is trying to plug the immunity gap.

At the Communication University of China in Nanjing, a student protested for hours with a blank sheet of paper after posters proclaiming “Zero Covid” came down on Saturday. Hundreds of students joined in together.

Some laid flowers on the ground to honor the victims of the fire and chanted “rest in peace”. Others sang the Chinese national anthem as well as the left-wing anthem “The International”. “Long live the people!” they shouted.

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“I felt lonely, but yesterday everyone stood together,” said the 21-year-old photography student, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “I feel that we are all brave, brave to stand up for our rights, brave to criticize these mistakes, brave to express our position.”

“The students are like a spring loaded every day. Yesterday, that spring came back.” He said.

Videos posted on social media on Sunday showed several students at Tsinghua University in Beijing holding blank sheets of paper and chanting, “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression!” They show them singing while saying. A young woman shouted through a loudspeaker: “We don’t speak because we are afraid of being arrested. I believe that our people will be disappointed by us.” As a Tsinghua student, I will regret this for the rest of my life,” he said.

People who gathered at the Academy of Fine Arts raised their phones and reported on social media that it was a precautionary measure for those who lost their lives in Urumqi. Other posts show faded protest slogans on campuses in four cities and two provinces. In the southwestern city of Chengdu, videos show people crowding the streets late Sunday. “We don’t want lifetime rulers,” they shouted. “China does not need an emperor.”

Across the country, not just at universities, citizens seem to be reaching a crisis point. In the name of “Zero Covid”, many have been confined to their homes, sent to detention centers or banned from traveling for almost three years. Residents must submit to frequent coronavirus screenings and activity and health status monitoring.

Ürümki Fire A bus accident in September left 27 people dead while being taken to a detention center. A sudden lockdown in Shanghai in April left residents without enough food and sparked protests online and offline. The deaths of people related to the ban, including a 3-year-old boy who died because his parents could not take him to the hospital, fueled public anger.

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Health officials say this is the only way to stop the spread of the coronavirus as quickly as possible and isolate all positive cases to prevent serious cases and deaths, which would overwhelm the health care system. Due to low infection rates, China’s population of 1.4 billion has low natural immunity. Vaccinated people received locally produced vaccines that were less effective against the highly infectious omicron variant.

As China eases its coronavirus restrictions, confusion and frustration follow

Xinjiang’s fire has also re-intensified after weeks of widespread frustration over anti-epidemic policies, which have been resolved and, in some places, re-instated. On Sunday, China reported 39,791 new infections, the fourth straight day of a rise in the number of people infected with the virus.

An article in the state-run People’s Daily on Sunday called for “unwavering commitment” to current Covid policies. In a briefing on Sunday, Urumqi officials said public transport would partially resume on Monday as part of efforts to gradually lift lockdown measures.

In Shanghai, the police finally shut down Vigal’s place and blocked the street. Before dispersing the crowd at around 5 am, they collided with the protesters as they drove their cars.

Videos posted on Sunday show several people screaming in the area.Let them go!” an apparent reference to those arrested. Chen said he saw dozens of people arrested.

“I’m not a leader, but if there’s an opportunity to speak up or do something to help, I want to do it,” he said.

Pei-Lin Wu and Vic Chiang in Taipei and Lyric Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.


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