It’s unusual for the Chinese to protest against the despotic regime of the Communist Party. Such incidents are immediately suppressed under draconian laws and repressive tools meant to neutralise the dissenting voice.
The pro-democracy student movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was cruelly crushed and threw thousands of protesters in nauseating prisons after they were brutally tortured into signing cooked-up confessional statements.
To reiterate, it is not normal for the Chinese to join street protests. The people are trained to remain silent against the tyrannical rule – in absence of freedom of expression and democracy.
Last week, though, an unprecedented protest against the Chinese “dynamic zero-Covid” policy that had lasted for weeks and months contributed to anger and frustration. The lockdown was so stringent that apartment buildings were sealed and entrances barricaded.
A flurry of videos of a fire incident in a high-rise apartment, led to a public outcry which quickly spread across the country – in 17 major cities including Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Urumqi, Wuhan and Xi’an.
In a bid to discourage participation in the uprising, the authorities of elite universities hung notices for closing the campus and shuttled the students to train stations and airports.
In most cities, the protests in China turned violent. The protesters showed a blank white paper to give a message of the lack of a free press, free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of faith – most importantly, absence of democracy.
The protest sparked after a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, the home of Uyghur Muslims. The fire killed 10 residents as the emergency response team were unable to reach the victims. The province was under a strict Coronavirus lockdown for more than 100 days.
The Uyghurs for several years are facing persecution and relocation in mainland China, while a huge number of the community remains captive in so-called internment camps for months.
Sinologist David Moser in a tweet writes: I’ve lived in China for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a brazenly open and sustained expression of rage against the [People’s Republic of China] PRC govt. WeChat [a Chinese popular social media app] is exploding with protest videos and furious vitriol, and civil disobedience is becoming rampant. This is a serious test of CCP governance.
Filmmaker Rob Schneider writes: When tyranny pushes citizens to where they have nothing to lose because their government has crushed all their hopes and liberties to the point of starvation…people fight back!
The fresh demonstrations occurred weeks after President Xi Jinping securing a third term as the Communist Party’s general secretary. Xi is now facing widespread popular discontent, the greatest seen in China since 1989. He was the one who spearheaded the extreme lockdown measures across the country.
The street demonstrations have yielded results. The Chinese authorities have hastily relaxed lockdown restrictions and lifted lockdowns in some cities where people have been confined to home for weeks to more than a month.
A top health official acknowledged that the country faces a ‘new situation’. The authorities went a step further – allowing close contacts to isolate at home instead of spending five days in a quarantine facility.
As usual, heavily censored Chinese state media did not mention a word about the street protests, except for the relaxation of restrictions.
The award-winning Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini aptly said about state media that “censorship is advertising paid by the [Chinese] government.”
The Communist Party of China teaches millions of new-generation students in schools and through youth organisations not to challenge authorities, which is deemed as a sin. People are not trained not to talk or type or write anything – just obey and obey as slaves.
Selina Wang, CNN International Correspondent stationed in China, says protests in China are rare. “This is an extraordinary, historic moment in China,” he said.
In Wuhan, the anti-lockdown protesters are tearing down barricades shouting, “It started in Wuhan and it ends in Wuhan!”
From Tokyo to New York to London to Paris, the Chinese people are protesting the suppression by President Xi and showing solidarity and a call for freedom. The repressive healthcare authority had fed the captive Chinese audience of the success of zero-Covid management. Almost three years later, the series of lockdowns is a reversal from an initial victory against Covid-19, which has been demonstrated to be a worse situation when there is a lack of transparency and accountability. Most importantly, the authorities lack a long-term strategy to attain zero-Covid.
To regain public confidence, the autocratic regime needs a timeline for ending zero-Covid when the country’s Covid-19 containment strategy relies on public cooperation, but after almost three years of the pandemic, frustrations are mounting, writes Andrei Lungu, correspondent of South China Morning Post published from Hong Kong.
China’s “dynamic zero-Covid” policy narrative has centred on the efficiency of its political system, which is supposedly better suited than democratic governments to both identifying the interests of the people and to marshalling the resources needed to advance them.
The “dynamic zero-Covid” policy was believed by millions to be a strategy based on scientific fact, but now it seems it was driven by political interests. Instead of an enlightened government that protects its people, Beijing is now pictured as an ideological zealot.
—The writer is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad