“You get paid and we don’t!” she yelled at police on Sunday. “Lift the ban! No more restrictions!”
The contrast between China’s zero-COVID policy and the rest of the world’s ability to weather the pandemic has become so acute that its censors have been cutting live footage of maskless crowds at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Citizens hoped that Xi’s coronation for a third term at the National Party Congress in October would put an end to the COVID groundhog days of the past three years. Now they are venting their frustration on local officials who were either too scared or too ambitious to implement Beijing’s “20 Points” — modest changes designed to ease the burden of COVID lockdown.
“Everyone knows about the party congress that just happened, right?” a middle-aged woman in a pink hoodie shouted at officials in Shanxi on Sunday. “Do you know the 20 new measurements?”
At Beijing universities, dismissed in the Xi era as sponges for Chinese Communist Party propaganda, students have found their voice despite the system regularly expelling people for “picking fights and stirring up trouble.”
“My name is Yang Tzu-Chiang, I am in charge of the student union,” Yang shouted into a megaphone at Renmin University, the first Chinese institution to establish a research center dedicated to Xi Jinping thought.
“Yang Tzu-Chiang, that’s my name,” he said again for emphasis, aware that identifying yourself is a singular act of defiance just as holding up a blank sheet of paper can land you in jail.
Nearby, at Tsinghua University, the Chinese president’s alma mater, a young protester told her fellow students “don’t be afraid.”
“If we don’t use our voice for fear of getting caught, I think all Chinese people would be disappointed. As a student at Tsinghua University, I would also regret it for the rest of my life.”
In downtown Beijing on Sunday night, a man surrounded by smartphones and policemen shouted Shakespeare’s words. sonnet 18 – a love poem about youth turned into an allegory for the Chinese Communist Party
“Every fairground at some point declines,” he said.
A sign posted in Harbin, north China, tells students not to “approach that good night delicately” and lists the tragedy of the fire in Urumqi, which resulted in COVID-19 and led to the latest round of protests; the Guizhou bus accident that killed 27 on its way to quarantine; and suicides at the shuttered Foxconn facility in Zhengzhou, one of the world’s largest iPhone factories.
Behind him, an electronic sign flashed: “we are in the northernmost part [of China]but our heart belongs to the Party”.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the protests were unique because, unlike other civil unrest over mining, housing market crashes or baby formula, the disputes had escalated. beyond localized and united self-interest. complaints from geographically and economically disparate people.
“Now you look at it, it’s different because they also have social values. There are people who say ‘down with Xi Jinping’ or ‘down with the CCP,’” she said. “They are angry with the system.”
“They are unhappy with the state of the party. This is something very, very different.”
Wu said the student protests were the largest he had seen since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and had challenged the misperception that China’s younger generations were not interested in human rights, free speech or politics. democratic.
“In general, people think that young Chinese students are receiving a propaganda education, so they are very patriotic. I don’t think people anticipated that this group of people would go against the government and also speak out courageously about public policy. It really is a big surprise.”
Wu said there were three options for how Xi and the party might respond.
The first is that the government, unable to see its own shortcomings, blames the US and the West for provoking dissent and doubles down on its zero COVID policy.
The second is the middle ground.
“Hopefully not a lot of people get arrested, the government notices the unhappiness and anger at ground level, and they know it’s something to work on,” Wu said.
The third is less appetizing. If the protests continue next week, Wu would not rule out the party resorting to military intervention.
“The party is formidable and is also determined to crack down on these types of protests,” he said. “I’m just worried that if there’s a bigger crash, it’s going to be a much bigger disaster. They could use the armed forces.”