Protests over China’s “zero-COVID” rules have rocked Shanghai and other cities

Protests over China’s “zero-COVID” rules have rocked Shanghai and other cities

Protests against China’s strict “zero-COVID” policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a wave of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a fatal apartment fire in the city of Urumqi in the country’s far northwest sparked concerns over such stringent anti-virus measures.

On the same street in Shanghai where police had just hours earlier used force to disperse hundreds of protesters, crowds stood and videotaped as police began pushing others who had congregated.

They yelled, “We don’t want PCR testing, we want freedom!” according to an anonymous witness who feared reprisal.

Since Friday, protests have occurred around China, where street rallies are relatively uncommon. However, resentment and outrage have erupted in response to the deaths caused by a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, which the public feels was caused by severe lockdown measures that delayed rescue efforts.

There were demonstrations at 50 institutions, according to a social media crowdsourced list. Social media videos purportedly shot in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Beijing in the north, and at least five other cities showed protestors clashing with police in white protective suits or removing barricades erected to close off communities. The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm every demonstration.

In this still from a video acquired by The Associated Press, police can be seen observing demonstrators in Shanghai on November 26, 2022. AP

Videos from the situation rapidly appeared online. Some of the most popular films originated from Shanghai, which saw a disastrous lockdown in the spring, during which residents battled to obtain food and medicine and were forcibly placed in centralized quarantine.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, demonstrators yelled on a road named after a city in Xinjiang where at least ten people had recently perished in an apartment fire “Xi Jinping! Come down! CCP! Come down.”

A protester who yelled with the throng verified that individuals did call for the ouster of China’s leader, Xi Jinping – sentiments that many would not have expected to hear in one of China’s largest cities.

Beginning before midnight on Saturday, hundreds of protestors had gathered on a roadway in Shanghai. Middle Urumqi Road is divided into two distinct segments. One group was more composed and brought candles, flowers, and placards to memorialize the victims of the apartment fire. According to a demonstrator who requested anonymity for fear of detention, the other group was more active, chanting slogans and singing the national song.

The energy was uplifting, remarked the demonstrator. People demanded an official apology for the fatalities caused by the fire in Urumqi. Others mentioned the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, in which the ruling Communist Party ordered forces to open fire on student demonstrators. One Uyghur guy described his encounters with prejudice and police brutality.

“Everyone believes that Chinese people are frightened to demonstrate, that they lack bravery,” claimed the protester who stated that this was his first demonstration. “I actually had this thought in my heart. However, when I arrived, I discovered that the milieu was such that everyone was quite courageous.”

Initially, the situation seemed tranquil. At 3 a.m., things became aggressive. The police surrounded the demonstrators and dispersed the first, more aggressive group before approaching the second, which was carrying flowers. The objective was to divert traffic from the main street.

In this screenshot taken from a social media video on November 27, 2022 in Shanghai, China, police officers keep watch as protesters demonstrate against COVID-19 rules.

A demonstrator identified only by his surname, Zhao, stated that police beat one of his friends and pepper-sprayed two others. He said that cops stomped on his feet as he attempted to prevent them from removing his companion. Having lost his footwear, he left the demonstration barefoot.

According to Zhao, demonstrators chanted slogans such as “(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom” in reference to the protest organized by a lone individual in Beijing in October prior to the 20th Communist Party meeting in Beijing.

After three years of draconian lockdowns that kept people confined to their homes for weeks at a time, the Xinjiang fire appears to have shattered the Chinese public’s tolerance for the punitive measures.

China’s strategy to managing COVID-19 with rigorous lockdowns and widespread testing was lauded by its own populace for reducing fatalities at a time when other nations were experiencing debilitating infection outbreaks. Xi had cited the method as evidence of the superiority of the Chinese system over that of the West and the United States in particular, which had politicized the use of masks and struggled to implement extensive lockdowns.

In recent weeks, this perspective has shifted as the number of tragedies caused by the aggressive implementation of “zero COVID” has increased.

According to demonstrators, in Shanghai, hundreds of police formed clusters around protesters in an effort to disperse them. The police spent many hours breaking up the demonstrators into smaller groups and removing them off Urumqi Road.

By 5 a.m. on Sunday, the police had successfully dispersed the crowd.

The protester who declined to provide his identity stated that he witnessed numerous individuals being hauled away by police and pushed into vehicles, but was unable to identify them. On the basis of photographs and videos from the night, as well as information from others who knew the arrested, a crowdsourced web effort has so far identified six persons being taken away. Among those held is a young woman known only by her alias, Little He.

On Sunday evening, posters calling for more action circulated online in Shanghai and in Chengdu, a key city in China’s southwest. The protesters in Shanghai demanded the release of those detained.

Tsinghua University students demonstrated in front of one of the school’s cafeterias on a Sunday afternoon in Beijing. Initially, three young women stood there with a simple message of condolence for the victims of the apartment fire in Urumqi, according to a witness who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Students yelled “free speech” and sung the National Anthem. At the demonstration, the school’s assistant party secretary promised to host a schoolwide debate.

In the meanwhile, two cities in China’s northwest, where inhabitants have been confined to their houses for up to four months, loosened certain anti-virus regulations on Sunday in response to Friday’s demonstrations.

State media reported that the 4.8 million-person city of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, and the smaller city of Korla were preparing to reopen markets and other businesses in areas deemed at low risk of virus transmission, as well as to resume bus, train, and airline service.


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