Protests erupted across China after a deadly fire Thursday evening in an apartment building killed 10 people and brought the anger over China’s zero-Covid policies to a boil, the Associated Press reported.
Nationwide protests ignited this weekend over China’s strict zero-Covid policies that have caged much of the population inside their homes for several months. The building that caught fire, located in Urumqi city in Xinjiang province, had been locked down for two months. Many on social media blamed the lockdown for hampering rescue efforts. The Urumqi government has denied this, per the AP.
“Some residents’ ability to rescue themselves was too weak,” said Li Wensheng, head of the Urumqi City Fire Rescue department in a press conference, according to the AP. “They failed to escape in time.”
Through China’s zero-Covid policy, Chinese citizens have seen all aspects of their lives consumed by months of rolling lockdowns, mandatory daily testing, and red, yellow, or green Covid passes. People with red codes, which result from a positive COVID test or from being contacts with someone who’s positive, have their movement greatly restricted, the AFP reported. A green code is required to enter most, if not all, public places.
CCP authorities have also routinely used COVID-19 to crack down on Christianity, shut down churches, and prevent Christians from gathering, according to ChinaAid. This year, authorities passed regulations that restricted online religious gatherings. Christians who attend house churches are prevented altogether from holding virtual church services, further isolating those in lockdown.
The consequences of these policies have resulted in now countrywide suffering. In September, Xinjiang residents reported running out of food and going hungry in lockdown, per the AP. That same month, in Guizhou province, CCP authorities locked down part of the capital with no warning and shut down elevators inside buildings, trapping those inside without sufficient food or medicine, according to the Guardian. These are just a few examples, but across the country, many have been excluded from participating in society and have been repeatedly locked inside.
Now, Chinese citizens seem to have had enough. University students have gathered on some of China’s most prestigious college campuses to protest. Some held vigils for those killed in the apartment-building fire and other victims of the zero-Covid policies.
Beijing right now: police have arrived but people gathered to mourn the Xinjiang fire victims are peacefully surrounding them and singing pic.twitter.com/BOt9YHCNO3
— Vivian Wang (@vwang3) November 27, 2022
Crowds in Xinjiang province and in major cities across the country have clashed with police forces, chanting slogans like “No more lockdowns,” “CCP, step down,” or “Xi Jinping, step down.”
Over 1,000 protestors in Bejing gathered early Monday morning, according to Reuters. In Shanghai, police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of over 300 protestors who had gathered to remember the victims of the Urumqi fire, a witness told the AP. Many people held up blank, white sheets of paper to avoid and protest censorship.
“The white paper represent everything we want to say but cannot say,” one protestor told Reuters.
Crowd of at least 100 making its way to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Sunday night, chanting, “We want universal values,” “We want freedom, equality, democracy, rule of law,” “We don’t want dictatorship,” “We don’t want personality cult.” pic.twitter.com/JSW7OHMIAG
— Simina Mistreanu (@SiminaMistreanu) November 27, 2022
CCP authorities responded by swiftly suppressing and deleting online discussions and videos of the protests and restricting the sharing of protest content, according to Axios.
The protests and slogans presently coming from Chinese citizens, which outright criticize President Xi and the CCP, are unprecedented. This appears to be the first genuine challenge to the CCP’s authority in decades.