China He moved quickly to quell the demonstrations that broke out across the country over the weekend, deploying police forces to key protest sites and tightening internet censorship.
The protests were sparked by anger over the country’s increasingly costly no-Covid policy, but as numbers swelled at demonstrations in several major cities, a range of grievances were also being voiced – with some calling for more democracy and freedom.
Among the thousands of protesters, hundreds have called for the removal of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who for nearly three years has overseen a strategy of mass testing, brute-force lockdowns, forced quarantines and digital tracing that has devastating human infections. and economic cost.
Here’s what we know.
The protests were sparked by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the country’s westernmost region of Xinjiang. The fire killed at least 10 people and injured nine in an apartment building – leading to public outrage after videos of the incident appeared to show that lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.
The city has been under lockdown for more than 100 days, with residents unable to leave the area and many forced to stay indoors.
Videos showed Urumqi residents walking to a government building and chanting for an end to the lockdown on Friday. The next morning, the local government said it would lift the lockdown in phases – but did not provide a clear timeframe or address the protests.
That failed to quell public anger and the protests quickly spread outside Xinjiang, with residents in cities and universities across China also taking to the streets.
So far, CNN has verified 20 demonstrations that took place in 15 Chinese cities – including the capital Beijing and financial hub Shanghai.
In Shanghai on Saturday, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the city of Xinjiang, to mourn the victims of the fire. Several carried white papers—a symbolic protest against censorship—and chanted, “Need human rights, need freedom.”
Some also shouted for Xi to “step down” and sang The Internationale, a socialist anthem Used as a call to action in demonstrations around the world for over a century. It was also sung during pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing before a brutal crackdown by the armed forces in 1989.
China’s anti-coronavirus policies have been felt particularly acutely in Shanghai, where a two-month lockdown earlier this year left many without food, medical care or other essential supplies — provoking deep public resentment.
By Sunday evening, mass demonstrations had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Wuhan, with thousands of residents calling not only for an end to Covid restrictions, but, more significantly, political freedoms. Residents in some closed neighborhoods have demolished barricades and taken to the streets.
Protests also took place on campuses, including at the prestigious institutions of Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and China Communications University, Nanjing.
in Hong KongAs a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 has been used to suppress dissent, dozens of people gathered Monday evening in the city’s central district to protest. Some carried blank pieces of paper, while others left flowers and held up banners commemorating those killed in the Urumqi fire.
Public protest is extremely rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, cracked down on dissent, removed much civil society, and built a high-tech surveillance state.
The system of mass surveillance is even stricter in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of holding up to 2 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in camps where former detainees have alleged physical and sexual abuse.
a curse UN report in September He described the region’s “invasive” surveillance network, with police databases containing hundreds of thousands of files containing biometric data such as face and eyeball scans.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
While protests do occur in China, they rarely happen on this scale, and don’t direct such a direct target on the central government and the nation’s leader, said Maria Rybnikova, an associate professor at Georgia State University who studies Chinese politics and media.
“This is a different kind of protest than the more localized protests that we have seen recurring over the past two decades, which tend to focus their claims and demands on local officials and on highly targeted social and economic issues,” she said. Instead, this time the protests expanded to include “the sharpest expression of political grievances along with concerns about the Covid-19 lockdown.”
There have been growing signs in recent months of public impatience with Zero-Covid, after nearly three years of economic hardship and disruption to daily life.
Isolated pockets of protest erupted in October, with anti-Covid slogans appearing on the walls of public restrooms and in various Chinese cities, inspired by a banner hung by A lone protester on a flyover in Beijing Just days before Xi consolidates a third term in power.
Earlier in November, larger protests erupted in Guangzhou, with residents defying lockdown orders to bring down barricades and cheering as they took to the streets.
While protests in several parts of China appeared to have dispersed largely peacefully over the weekend, authorities responded more forcefully in some cities.
The Shanghai protests on Saturday led to clashes between demonstrators and police, with arrests made in the early hours of the morning. Undeterred, the protesters returned on Sunday, where they were met with an even more aggressive response – videos show chaotic scenes of police pushing, pulling and beating protesters.
The videos have since been removed from the Chinese internet by censors.
A Shanghai protester told CNN he was one of 80 to 110 people arrested in the city on Saturday night. He described how he was taken to a police station, had his phone confiscated, and had his biometric information collected before being released a day later.
CNN cannot independently verify the number of detainees.
Hear protesters in China calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation
Two foreign journalists were also briefly detained. BBC journalist Edward Lawrence He was arrested in Shanghai on Sunday night, where a BBC spokesperson claimed he was “beaten and kicked by the police” while covering the protests. Since then he has been released.
On Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Lawrence had not identified himself as a journalist prior to his arrest.
Michael Beuker, the China correspondent for Swiss public broadcaster RTS, was speaking live when he said he was approached by several police officers. He later posted on Twitter that officers led him and his cameraman to a car before releasing them.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson sidestepped questions about the protests on Monday, telling a reporter who asked whether widespread public displays of anger would cause China to consider ending zero Covid: “What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened.”
He also claimed that social media posts linking the Xinjiang fire to Covid policies had “ulterior motives”, and that the authorities were “making adjustments based on the facts on the ground”. When asked about the protesters calling for Xi to step down, he replied, “I am not aware of the position you mentioned.”
State-run media did not cover the demonstrations directly – but hailed the lack of Covid, with one newspaper on Sunday calling it “the most scientifically effective tactic”.
In recent days, vigils and demonstrations to express solidarity with protesters in China have been held around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
As news of the protests made international headlines, government officials and foreign organizations expressed support for the protesters and criticized Beijing’s response.
“We’re watching this closely, as you might expect we would,” said US National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby on Monday. We continue to stand up and support the right to peaceful protest.
Why are the protesters in China holding up the white paper?
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters that the Chinese government should “listen to the voices of its people…when they say they are unhappy with the restrictions imposed on them.”
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) also said on Monday that it condemned the “intolerable intimidation and assault” directed at member journalists in China, in an apparent reference to foreign journalists who have been detained.
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