(TibetanReview.net, Nov28’22) – Protests against China’s draconian lockdown policy designed to implement President Xi Jinping’s zero tolerance on the spread of the Covid-19 infection are spreading throughout the country and have reportedly reached 50 university campuses as well. What is more, they have been accompanied by previously unthinkable calls on President Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since the death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, to step down, according to major international media reports Nov 27.
Residents and students gathered in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai reflecting growing public impatience and in a major test for the leadership of strongman Xi Jinping and his zero-Covid policy, reported the scmp.com Nov 27. But authorities show little sign of relenting on the zero-Covid approach as case numbers and the personal toll mount, it said.
The report said the protests were largely sparked by a deadly residential fire in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, on Nov 24, which killed 10 and injured nine. The tragedy prompted widespread fury on the internet as many believed Covid restrictions prevented the victims from fleeing or being saved.
The next day, hundreds of angry residents took to Urumqi’s streets demanding an end to the lockdown that had barred the area’s 4 million residents from leaving their homes for 100 days, the report added.
The protests soon spread to the country’s most affluent cities and among young students, underlining the growing public impatience and grievances nearly three years into the pandemic.
While in Beijing and elsewhere, residents gathered to confront local authorities over restrictive measures and repeated Covid tests, many small vigils and protests were also reportedly held at universities in Beijing, Xian, Nanjing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan and other cities, the report said.
A few hundred students gathered at Tsinghua University, Xi’s alma mater, on Nov 27 afternoon, chanting “Democracy, the rule of law and freedom of expression”.
Peking University students were also stated to have protested on Nov 26 evening, painting slogans on building walls including “We want freedom, not lockdowns” and “Dynamic zero-Covid is a lie” – all while singing “The Internationale” (a left-wing anthem, a standard of the socialist movement since the late 19th century) in front of a group of uniformed security guards.
Another viral video was stated to show hundreds of students at Communication University of China, Nanjing, holding up sheets of white paper and chanting “Long live the people, may the dead rest in peace”, at a vigil on Nov 26 evening for the victims of the Xinjiang fire.
The largest protest was stated to have occurred in Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, where about 300 residents gathered in the early hours of Nov 27 at Middle Wulumuqi Road – which borrows its name from Urumqi.
In memory of the Xinjiang victims, they brought flowers, candles and signs reading “Urumqi, November 24, those who died rest in peace”; and they shouted “Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China”, a widely circulated video clip was stated to show.
This was followed by Fresh protests in the city late on Nov 27 afternoon and which continued into the night.
The same day China reported a fourth straight day of record cases.
As many as 412 million people were affected by lockdown measures in mainland China, according to Nomura, a Japanese brokerage, last week, up from 340 million the week before, amid predictions by economists about a contraction of China’s GDP this quarter.
Another edition.cnn.com report Nov 27 said that in protests that erupted across China the day before, including at universities and in Shanghai, hundreds chanted “Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party!” in an unprecedented show of defiance against the country’s stringent and increasingly costly zero-Covid policy.
The report said that in multiple videos people could be heard shouting demands for China’s top leader Xi and the Communist Party to “step down.” The crowd also chanted, “Don’t want Covid test, want freedom!” and “Don’t want dictatorship, want democracy!” the report said.
Shanghai city’s 25 million residents held deep rancour against zero-Covid after being subjected to a two-month lockdown in the spring, the report noted.
Shanghai police used pepper spray against about 300 protesters on Nov 26 night, reported the itv.com Nov 27, citing a witness, with demonstrations resurfacing there and in Beijing on Nov 27 afternoon.
The report said some protesters could be heard chanting “Xi Jinping, step down, CCP, Step down.”
On Nov 27, crowds stood and filmed as police started shoving at people who had gathered on the same street in Shanghai where police had cleared hundreds away with force just hours before, reported the euronews.com Nov 27.
They shouted, “We don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom!” the report quoted a witness – who did not want to be named for fear of retribution – as saying.
The report cited a crowdsourced list, posted on social media by the China editor of Singapore-based Initium Media, as saying there were demonstrations in 50 universities.
It said videos posted on social media that managed to evade the censors were stated to have been filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Beijing in the north and at least five other cities.
They stated to show protesters tussling with police in white Covid protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighbourhoods.
It cited a protester who had chanted with the crowd in Shanghai protests as confirming that people did shout for the removal of Xi Jinping in words that many would never have thought would have been said aloud in one of China’s biggest cities.
But the government has shown no sign of relenting. On Nov 27, People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, vowed in a front-page commentary to “unwaveringly” stick with the existing controls.