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Here’s What to Know About the Widespread Protests in China

Here’s What to Know About the Widespread Protests in China

Large protests have erupted throughout China over the last few weeks, as the country has grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s heavy-handed zero-COVID policy.

Thousands of protestors have flooded the streets, calling for greater democracy and freedom from the government, and many have even called for the removal of China’s leader Xi Jinping. For the last three years, Jinping has overseen the country’s COVID response, which has included mass-testing, brute-force lockdowns, prolonged enforced quarantine and digital tracking. And it seems Chinese citizens have had enough. 

The protests were triggered last week in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region. Videos from a deadly apartment fire, which killed at least 10 people and injured nine others, showed firefighters were delayed from reaching victims due to lockdown precaution measures. The city had been under lockdown for more than 100 days, with many residents unable to leave their homes at all. 

The following morning, Urumqi citizens marched to a government building while protesting for the end of the lockdown. The local government said it would lift the lockdown in stages, although it didn’t give a specific timetable.

Since then, citizens in China’s major cities have begun protesting the COVID restrictions and lockdowns. At least 16 protests have taken place nationwide. Many are holding up blank sheets of white paper – a symbolic protest against censorship – and chanting, “Need human rights, need freedom.”

Throughout lockdown, Chinese residents have struggled with meeting basic physical and emotional needs. In Shanghai, the nation’s financial capital, a two-month long lockdown earlier this year left many without access to food or medical care, and the isolation led to a decline in mental health. 

Public protest in China is incredibly rare, and the Chinese government has remained tight-lipped about their plans, if any, to address citizens’ concern. Authorities have been breaking up protests and controlling the media’s messages about the protests. The government has also held a tight grip on citizens, building a high-tech surveillance state and cracking down on public dissent. There’s even been numerous reports of the Chinese government spamming social media sites like Twitter with pornographic content to drown out any negative messages about the country’s protests. 

Maria Repnikova, an associate professor at Georgia State University who studies Chinese politics and media, spoke to CNN and explained that while protests do occur in China, they rarely happen on such a large scale.

“This is a different type of protest from the more localized protests we have seen recurring over the past two decades that tend to focus their claims and demands on local officials and on very targeted societal and economic issues,” she said. Instead, these protests include “the sharper expression of political grievances alongside with concerns about Covid-19 lockdowns.”

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