Protests erupt in Shanghai and other Chinese cities against Covid controls

On Saturday evening, protests spread to cities and university campuses across China, reflecting growing public anger over the country’s draconian Covid controls, with some in a crowd in Shanghai directing their fury at the Communist Party and its supreme leader. , Xi Jinping.

The wider protests followed an outpouring of anger online and a street protest that erupted on Friday in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang in western China, where at least 10 people died and nine others were injured in an apartment fire on Thursday. Many Chinese say they suspect Covid restrictions prevented these victims from escaping their homes, a claim the government has denied.

The tragedy has prompted wider calls to ease China’s harsh regime of Covid testing, city lockdowns and movement limits nearly three years into the pandemic. For much of that time, many accepted these controls as a price for avoiding the widespread illness and death that the United States, India, and other countries endured. But public patience has eroded this year as other nations, backed by vaccines, have returned to something like normal, even as infections have continued. And after years of enforcing strict “zero Covid” rules, many local officials seem exhausted.

Growing discontent could test Mr. Xi’s efforts to keep those rules in place.

“Protests across the country were like the spark that ignited a prairie fire,” Shanghai resident James Yu said in an interview, adopting a Chinese phrase used to describe the spread of the communist revolution from Mao Zedong. “I feel like everyone can make their voice heard loud and clear. He feels powerful.

The biggest protest on Saturday appeared to be in Shanghai, where hundreds of people, mostly in their 20s, gathered at an intersection on Urumqi Road, named after the city in Xinjiang, to mourn the dead with candles and placards. Many there and elsewhere held sheets of blank white paper above their heads or faces in mournful defiance; white is a funeral color in China.

The numbers rose as lines of police watched and chants broke out as people called for a relaxation of Covid controls, video footage showed. Some have used obscene language to decry the demand that residents check in with a Covid phone app in public places such as shops and parks. Their cries took a decidedly political turn.

“We want freedom” protesters chanted.

some too directed their anger at Mr. Xia rare act of political defiance likely to alarm Communist Party officials and spur increased censorship and policing.

“Xi Jinping!” a man in the crowd shouted repeatedly.

“Resign!” some sang in response. Many protesters have used their phones to record the collective mourning and protests, images that can spread despite censorship, encouraging others to speak out.

The protest dispersed after more police arrived, dividing the crowd, and officers dragged some people away, according to Eva Rammeloo, a Dutch journalist who was there to post updates. on Twitter.

Last month, Mr. Xi won a groundbreaking third term as general secretary of the Communist Party, consolidate one’s status as China’s most powerful leader for decades. He has also packed a new formation of national leaders with loyalist officials, which gives the impression that his grip is secure.

But the night of public anger shows how its tough Covid policies, initially heralded as a success for China after the pandemic spread globally from there in early 2020, are becoming a liability.

They have hurt restaurants, shops and other small businesses, worsening China’s economic slowdown. This month, thousands of factory workers angry over failed lockdowns and delays in paying a promised bonus clashed with riot police and demolished the barricades of a huge factory in central China that makes iPhones.

Officials continue to fear that an uncontrolled spread of Covid, even in its mildest forms, could lead to mass deaths. The Covid vaccine developed in China is generally less effective than some developed overseas, but Beijing has not approved foreign mRNA vaccines for domestic use. Many older Chinese have resisted vaccinations or booster shots, sometimes because they are suspicious of side effects, believe unfounded rumors about the risks or feel safe from exposure to the virus.

On Sunday, the People’s Daily – the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party – called for sticking to Mr. Xi’s policies.

Measured in Covid deaths and hospitalizations, “the Chinese have had the least impact from the pandemic”, the front page editorial said. Officials and the public, he said, must “firmly overcome slackness and war-weariness.”

This month, the government took steps to ease restrictions that have hampered travel and business. Yet local authorities remain under intense pressure to keep infections close to zero, leading to confusing flip-flops in enforcement. The resulting uncertainty about where China’s war on Covid is headed and when it might end has fueled public frustration, as seen in Urumqi, Shanghai and beyond.

“There is only one disease in the world, that is, lack of freedom and poverty, and now we have both,” said a man from Chongqing in the southwest. from China. said in a video which have spread widely in the country in recent days despite censorship.

“Give me freedom or give me death!” shouted the man, whose identity is unknown but who quickly acquired the nickname “Super Brother” online.

Protests and mourning vigils also took place on at least three college campuses, according to online videos verified by The Times.

“Before, I felt loose, but now, at this moment, I feel like I can stand up,” said a young man from Xinjiang. says a rally on a campus of the Communication University of China in Nanjing, eastern China. His comments were captured by a video that emerged online on Saturday evening and whose location has been verified by The Times.

Hundreds waved their phones like lit candles. He said: “I speak on behalf of my home region, I speak on behalf of those friends who lost relatives and loved ones in the catastrophic fire.”

“And,” he added, “for the deceased.”

Smaller protests and vigils also took place at Peking University and Wuhan University of Technologyvideos, verifiable from buildings in the background, showed.

A protest also broke out in another city in Xinjiang: Korla, in the north of the region. Hundreds of residents gathered at the prefectural government office, as seen in video footage that has emerged online on Saturday evening.

“Release the lock,” they shouted.

The Xinjiang region has been under intense security checks for years as part of the government’s long-running crackdown on Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group. But many protesters in Korla appeared to be from China’s ethnic Han majority, judging by their accent and appearance, as did many protesters in Urumqi, the regional capital.

During the night, an official came out and promised the Korla crowd that the closures would be relaxed, prompting applause and cheers of welcome.

But ahead of the latest protests, the Xinjiang government had warned residents that strict Covid measures were still needed, and security authorities there and elsewhere in China are also likely to step up surveillance and security in a bid to prevent further trouble.

“Pandemic risks have not been completely eradicated and chains of transmission have not been completely broken, so any easing may bring a rebound,” Xinjiang leaders said. announced Saturday. Officials, he said, must “sternly attack concocting and spreading rumours, inciting incidents, violent resistance to pandemic control measures and other criminal behavior.”

In Shanghai, many neighborhoods have started requiring residents to take frequent and often time-consuming Covid nucleic acid tests again – just days after announcing that tests would rarely be needed in the future. In this city, which endured a grueling two-month lockdown earlier this year in a bid to eradicate a Covid outbreak, the deadly Urumqi fire appeared to reignite public anger over the episode.

“Yesterday I saw the fire tragedy in Urumqi and I was crying all the time, then I thought about when Shanghai was under lockdown this year,” said Kira Yao, sales manager in Shanghai, who said. having attended a candlelight. vigil for the victims of the Urumqi fire.

“Later we shouted ‘No nucleic acid testing, we want freedom’ and ‘No to health codes’ and my friends and I cried – I felt like I could finally say this what I meant.”

Zixu Wang contributed to the research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *