Protests erupt across China in unprecedented challenge to Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy


Protests erupted across China Saturday, including in universities and in Shanghai where hundreds of people chanted “Resign, Xi Jinping!” Quit, Communist Party! in an unprecedented show of defiance against the country’s strict and increasingly costly zero-Covid policy.

A deadly fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, which killed 10 people and injured nine on Thursday, acted as a catalyst for public anger, as videos emerged emerged that appeared to suggest lockdown measures delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.

Protests erupted in cities and universities across China on Saturday, with some extending into Sunday, according to social media videos and eyewitness accounts.

On dozens of university campuses, students held rallies or put up posters to mourn the dead of the Xinjiang fire and denounce zero-Covid. In several cities, residents of confined neighborhoods broke down barriers and took to the streets, following mass anti-lockdown protests that swept through Urumqi Friday night.

Such widespread scenes of anger and defiance are exceptionally rare in China, where the ruling Communist Party ruthlessly suppresses all expressions of dissent. But three years into the pandemic, many people have been pushed to the brink by the government incessant use confinements, Covid tests and quarantines. Public anger has reached a boiling point following a string of heartbreaking deaths that have been blamed on Covid control measures.

The anger led to remarkable acts of defiance on Saturday night in Shanghai, where hundreds of residents gathered at a crossroads to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire, according to widely circulated – and quickly censored – videos on the Chinese social networks and a testimony.

Around a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers and signs, the crowd held up sheets of white paper – in what is traditionally a symbolic protest against censorship – and chanted: “Need human rights, need for freedom”.

In several videos seen by CNN, people could be heard shouting demands for Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to “resign.” The crowd also chanted: “I don’t want a Covid test, I want freedom! and “I don’t want a dictatorship, I want democracy!”

Some videos show people singing China’s national anthem and The International, a standard of the socialist movement, while holding up banners protesting the country’s exceptionally strict pandemic measures.

Rows of police, initially watching from the outside, began moving in to push back and divide the crowd around 3 a.m., sparking tense clashes with protesters, a witness said.

The witness told CNN he saw several people arrested and taken away in a police vehicle next to the makeshift memorial after 4:30 a.m. They also saw several protesters being grabbed by the mob officers and taken behind the police cordon . The protest gradually dispersed before dawn, the witness said.

A security guard tries to cover a zero-Covid protest slogan on the Peking University campus in Beijing.

Numerous protests have erupted on university campuses – which are particularly politically sensitive to the Communist Party, given the history of the Tiananmen Square student protests in 1989.

Around midnight on Sunday, around 100 students gathered around a protest slogan painted on a wall at the prestigious Peking University in Beijing. A student told CNN that when he arrived at the scene around 1 a.m., security guards were using jackets to cover the protest sign.

“Say no to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to Covid testing, yes to food,” reads the message written in red paint, echoing the slogan of a protest that took place on a Beijing overpass in October. , just days before a key Communist Party meeting in which Xi secured a third term in power.

“Open your eyes and look at the world, dynamic zero-Covid is a lie,” read the slogan of the protest at Peking University.

The student said security guards then covered the slogan in black paint.

Students then gathered to sing the Internationale before being dispersed by teachers and security guards.

Students from the Communication University of China in Nanjing gathered Saturday night for a vigil to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire.

In the eastern province of Jiangsu, at least dozens of students from the Communication University of China, Nanjing gathered on Saturday evening to mourn those who died in the Xinjiang fire. Videos show the students wielding white sheets of paper and cellphone flashlights.

In one video, a university official could be heard warning students: “You’re going to pay for what you did today.”

“So are you, and so is the country,” one student shouted in response.

Campus protests continued on Sunday. At Tsinghua University, another top university in Beijing, hundreds of students gathered in a square to protest zero-Covid and censorship.

Hundreds of students from Tsinghua University in Beijing gathered on Sunday to protest zero-Covid and censorship.

Videos and images circulating on social media show students holding up white sheets of paper and shouting, “Democracy and the rule of law! Freedom of expression!”

In one video, a female student could be heard shouting to the cheers of the crowd: “From today, I will not perform oral sex for state power!”

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