Crowds flocked to the streets in a stunning challenge to the government on Sunday, with protesters being pushed to the breaking point by China’s draconian COVID regulations in Shanghai.
They demanded the ouster of the nation’s all-powerful leader and engaged in violent altercations with police.
Police forcibly removed the protesters demanding Xi Jinping’s resignation and the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule from China’s financial center; however, hours later, people gathered there once more, and reports on social media suggested that protests also spread to at least seven other cities, including the capital of Beijing, and dozens of university campuses.
Large-scale protests are uncommon in China, where it is common practice to restrict public expressions of opposition, but a frontal rebuke of Xi, the nation’s most powerful leader in decades, is unique.
China is the only large nation still working to limit COVID-19 transmission three years after the virus first appeared.
This “zero COVID” policy frequently results in millions of people being quarantined in their homes for weeks and necessitates nearly continual testing.
Initial support for reducing mortality while other nations saw disastrous waves of infections was widespread, but in recent weeks, that support has dwindled.
Then, on Friday, an apartment building caught fire, killing 10, and many think that the prolonged lockdown caused their rescue to be delayed.
The Chinese people’s tolerance for the draconian measures appears to have reached a breaking point, which led to a weekend of protests.
In Shanghai, which endured a disastrous lockdown in the spring during which residents battled to obtain supplies and medications and were forcibly hauled into centralized quarantine, hundreds of protesters gathered late on Saturday.
One group of demonstrators carried candles, flowers, and signs in memory of those who perished in the fire to a roadway bearing the name of the city in far-western China where the fire occurred.
Another demonstrator, who insisted on being anonymous, claimed to be more active, yelling slogans and singing the national anthem.
The slogans, which The Associated Press heard in footage of the demonstration, were “Xi Jinping! Step back! CCP! Step back! ” Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, was recently named to another term as the leader of the country’s dominant Chinese Communist Party.
Some anticipate that he would attempt to hold onto power indefinitely.
The protester and a second individual, Zhao, who only provided his last name, confirmed the chanting.
Both insisted on keeping their identities secret for fear of being arrested or facing punishment.
The unidentified protester claimed that the environment during the demonstration promoted discussion of forbidden subjects like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Communist Party in power had instructed troops to fire on pro-democracy student demonstrators.