Protests broke out across China on Saturday, including at universities and in Shanghai, where hundreds of people chanted, “Get down, Xi Jinping! Go, Communist Party!” in an unprecedented show of defiance against the country’s draconian and increasingly costly zero-Covid policy.
A deadly apartment block fire in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, that killed 10 people and injured nine on Thursday served as a catalyst for public outrage as videos surfaced suggesting lockdown measures delayed firefighters. from reaching victims.
On dozens of university campuses, students held rallies or held placards to mourn the deaths of the Xinjiang fire and speak out against zero Covid. In several cities, residents of ghettos took to the streets after massive anti-siege protests swept through Urumqi on Friday night.
Such widespread scenes of anger and defiance – some extended until Sunday – extremely rare in China, where the ruling Communist Party ruthlessly suppresses all 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.
The tightening of restrictions in recent months, combined with a series of heartbreaking deaths blamed on overzealous surveillance, have settled matters.
The anger has sparked notable acts of defiance in the financial hub of Shanghai, where many of the city’s 25 million residents harbor a deep grudge against zero Covid after a two-month lockdown in the spring.
Hundreds of residents gathered on Urumqi Road, which bears the city’s name, to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire late Saturday night, according to videos and witnesses that were widely circulated on Chinese social media and immediately censored. account.
Surrounding a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers and placards, the crowd held up blank white sheets — traditionally a symbolic protest against censorship — and chanted “Human rights needed, freedom needed.”
In multiple videos seen by CNN, people were heard shouting demands for “grain” from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party. The crowd also chanted “I don’t want a Covid test, we want freedom!” and “I don’t want dictatorship, we want democracy!”
Some videos show people holding banners protesting the country’s extremely strict pandemic measures and singing China’s national anthem and The Internationale, a standard song of the socialist movement.
According to the witness, police officers, who initially watched from the sidelines, began moving in around 3 a.m. to withdraw and disperse the crowd, leading to intense clashes with the protesters.
A witness told CNN that after 4:30 in the morning, they saw several people being arrested and put into a police car near the temporary monument. The witness said that the protest gradually dispersed until morning.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of Shanghai residents returned to the area to continue their protests despite a heavy police presence and road closures.
Videos show hundreds of people at the intersection chanting “Free the people!” demanding that the police release the detained demonstrators.
This time, the police took a tougher approach, moving faster and more aggressively to make arrests and disperse the crowd.
In one of the videos, a man with a bouquet of chrysanthemums in his hand spoke while walking on the crosswalk as a police officer tried to stop him.
“We have to be braver! Am I breaking the law by holding flowers?” “No!” he asked the screaming crowd. as an answer.
“We Chinese must be braver!” he said to the applause of the crowd. “Most of us were arrested yesterday. Are they unemployed or without family? We must not be afraid!’
An angry mob chanted, “Let him go!” the man struggled as more than a dozen officers forced him into a police car. and ran to the car.
Other videos show chaotic scenes of police pushing, dragging and beating protesters.
Hundreds shouted “three” at police after a protester was violently dragged away earlier in the evening, according to live coverage.
Given the history of the student-led Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, many of the protests took place on university campuses—a particularly politically sensitive area for the Communist Party.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, around 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 used jackets to cover the protest sign.
“Say no to lock, yes to freedom. “No to Covid testing, yes to food,” read a message written in red paint and chanted at a protest on a Beijing overpass in October, days before a key Communist Party meeting that secured Xi’s third term. power.
“Open your eyes and look at the world, dynamic zero Covid is a lie,” read a protest slogan at Peking University.
The student said that the guards then covered the slogan with black paint.
Students then gathered to sing The Internationale before being dispersed by teachers and security guards.
In eastern Jiangsu province, at least a dozen students from China’s Nanjing University of Communications gathered Saturday evening to mourn those who died in the Xinjiang fire. In the videos, students are seen holding white sheets of paper and cellphone flashlights.
In one video, a university official could be heard warning students: “You will pay for what you did today.”
“So will you, and so will the country,” shouted one student in response.
Campus protests continued on Sunday. At Tsinghua University, another top university in Beijing, hundreds of students gathered to protest zero-Covid and censorship.
In videos and images circulating on social networks, students can be seen holding white sheets of paper and shouting: “Democracy and the rule of law! Freedom of speech!”
In one of the videos, a female student could be heard shouting to the cheers of the crowd: “From today I will not perform oral sex for the government!”
Elsewhere in the country, residents demonstrated against the closure of their neighborhoods after mass protests forced authorities in Urumqi to announce the gradual easing of a more than 100-day lockdown.
On Friday night, hundreds of Urumqi residents marched on the government building, some holding Chinese flags and chanting “end to interference,” according to videos posted on Chinese social media and one Urumqi resident. Smaller protests also broke out in residential communities in the city, which saw residents break down lockdown barriers and argue with officials.
Over the weekend, protests against the blockade rocked neighborhoods in cities from Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan to Lanzhou.
Residents of many residential areas in Beijing defied lockdown orders, according to videos posted on social media. In one complex, residents marched “Say no to Covid tests, say yes to freedom!”
In the northwestern city of Lanzhou, residents escaped from locked buildings on Saturday to walk freely on the streets. Videos sent to CNN by a resident show some tearing down the tent of the Covid workers and smashing the testing booth.
Earlier this month, residents of that neighborhood took to the streets to demand answers from the authorities regarding the death of a 3-year-old boy. She died of gas poisoning after her father prevented her from taking her to the hospital immediately.
That area and other parts of Lanzhou have been under siege since October 1.