Protests erupted across China on Saturday, including at universities and in Shanghai as hundreds chanted “Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party!” in an unprecedented show of defiance against the country’s increasingly tough and costly anti-Covid policy.
A deadly fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the country’s far western region of Xinjiang, which killed 10 people and injured nine on Thursday, was the catalyst for public outrage, as videos appeared to show that lockdown measures were delaying firefighters. . access to the victims.
On dozens of college campuses, students have held rallies or put up posters to mourn the dead from the Xinjiang fire and speak out against Zero Covid. In several cities, residents of closed neighborhoods tore down barricades and took to the streets, following mass anti-lockdown protests that swept through Urumqi on Friday night.
Such pervasive scenes of anger and defiance – Some extended into Sunday – Exceptionally rare in China, where the ruling Communist Party ruthlessly suppresses all forms of dissent. But three years into the pandemic, many people have been pushed to the brink by the government’s relentless use of lockdowns, Covid tests and quarantines.
Escalating restrictions in recent months, along with a string of heartbreaking deaths blamed on excessive police surveillance on controllers, have brought matters to a head.
The anger has led to notable acts of defiance in the financial hub of Shanghai, where many of the city’s 25 million residents feel a burning grudge against Zero Covid after suffering a two-month lockdown in the spring.
Late Saturday night, hundreds of residents gathered for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the city, to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire, according to videos that went viral — and promptly censored — on Chinese social media. An eyewitness. the account.
Around a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, and banners, the crowd held up blank white papers—in what is traditionally considered a symbolic protest against censorship—and chanted, “Need human rights, need freedom.”
In multiple videos seen by CNN, people can be heard chanting, calling for China’s leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to “step down”. As the crowd chanted “You don’t want a Covid test, you want freedom!” and “You don’t want dictatorship, you want democracy!”
Some of the videos show people singing China’s national anthem and The Internationale, a standard of the socialist movement, while holding banners protesting the country’s pandemic crackdown.
Lines of police officers, who were initially looking in from outside, began moving in to push back and divide the crowd around 3 a.m., sparking tense confrontations with protesters, according to an eyewitness.
The witness told CNN they saw several people being arrested and taken away in a police car next to the makeshift memorial just after 4.30am. They also saw several protesters being grabbed by the officers from the crowd and taken behind the police line. The witness said that the protest gradually dispersed before dawn.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of Shanghai residents returned to the site to continue their protest despite a heavy police presence and roadblocks.
Videos showed hundreds of people at an intersection chanting “Release the people!” In calling on the police to release the arrested protesters.
This time, the police appeared to have taken a more aggressive approach, moving faster and more forcefully to make arrests and disperse crowds.
In one video, a man holding a bundle of chrysanthemums gave a speech while walking on a pedestrian crossing, while a police officer tried to stop him.
“We need to be braver! Am I breaking the law by carrying flowers?” he asked the crowd, who shouted “No!” In a reply.
“We Chinese need to be braver!” he said to the applause of the crowd. Many of us were arrested yesterday. Are they without a job or without a family? We must not be afraid! ”
The man faced a struggle as more than a dozen officers forced him into a police car, while the angry crowd shouted “Fire him!” And he rushed towards the car.
Other videos show chaotic scenes of police pushing, dragging, and beating protesters.
In the evening, after a protester was violently dragged away, hundreds of people shouted “three-ups” at police, according to a live broadcast.
Many of the protests took place on university campuses — which is particularly politically sensitive to the Communist Party, given the history of the student-led Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, about 100 students gathered around a protest slogan painted on a wall at the prestigious Peking University in Beijing. One student told CNN that when he arrived at the scene around 1 a.m., security guards were using vests to cover the protest sign.
“Say no to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to Covid testing, yes to food,” read the message scrawled in red paint, echoing the slogan of the protest that took place on the Beijing Bridge in October, just days before a key Communist Party meeting at which Xi secured a third term in office. Energy.
Peking University’s protest slogan read: “Open your eyes and look at the world, the dynamic of zero Covid is a lie.”
The student said that security guards later covered the logo with black paint.
The students later gather to sing The Internationale before being separated by the teachers and security guards.
In the eastern province of Jiangsu, at least dozens of students from the China Communication University, Nanjing gathered on Saturday evening to mourn those who died in the Xinjiang fire. The videos show the students holding white sheets of paper and cellphone flashlights.
In one video, a university official is heard warning students: “You will pay for what you did today.”
One of the students shouted in response: “You too, and so is the country.”
Campus protests continued Sunday. At Tsinghua University, another major university in Beijing, hundreds of students gathered in a square to protest against the non-spread of the coronavirus and censorship.
Videos and photos circulating on social media show students holding white papers chanting: “Democracy and the rule of law! Freedom of speech!”
In one of the videos, a female student can be heard shouting to the crowd’s cheers: “From today on, I will not perform oral sex for the sake of state power!”
In other parts of the country, residents demonstrated against the closure of their neighbourhoods, after sweeping protests in Urumqi forced the authorities to announce a gradual easing of a lockdown that had lasted for more than 100 days.
On Friday night, hundreds of Urumqi residents marched to a government building chanting “end the lockdowns,” some of them carrying the Chinese flag, according to videos circulating on Chinese social media and one Urumqi resident. Smaller protests also broke out in apartment blocks across the city, which saw residents smash lockdown barriers and scuffle with officials.
Throughout the weekend, anti-lockdown protests rocked neighborhoods in cities from Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, to Lanzhou.
According to videos on social media, residents in several residential communities in Beijing have defied lockdown orders. At one compound, residents marched and chanted, “Say no to COVID tests, yes to freedom!”
In the northwestern city of Lanzhou, residents rushed out of closed compounds on Saturday to roam freely in the streets. Videos sent to CNN by a resident show some of the Covid workers’ tent being flipped over and a test booth being smashed.
Earlier this month, residents of the same neighborhood took to the streets to demand a response from the authorities over the death of a 3-year-old. He died of gas poisoning after his father prevented him from being taken immediately to the hospital.
That district and other parts of Lanzhou have been locked down since Oct. 1.