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Nationwide Protests in China See Unprecedented Levels of Backlash Against President Xi JinPing

In response to Xi Jinping’s strict zero-tolerance Covid policies, unprecedented protests have erupted across China’s big cities. One labor scholar from Cornell explains that “for three years,” Chinese people have “seen a level of lockdown that is simply inconceivable.” 

Although the policies were harsh at the beginning of the pandemic, the benefits to Chinese society were clear. Throughout the pandemic, China reported far fewer cases of covid than the United States. To put in perspective just how few, the United States, a country of 332 million people, reported 1.1 million civilian deaths due to covid. In contrast, the People’s Republic of China, which has a population of 1.4 billion, reported 5,000 covid related deaths. 

After three years of these consistent policies, however, the Chinese people are fed up and protesting in a “movement against surveillance.” The policies have become so limiting, and frequent people in China sarcastically joke, “more crackdown, more tests.” Although discontent and tensions have been ever present, the protests began on Thursday with a fire in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, when ten people died because local covid restrictions prevented firefighters from saving the families on the top floor of a building. 

In the ten years of President Xi’s power, he has never encountered such widespread discontent from the Chinese people. For President Xi, the current protests are unprecedented for two reasons: they transcend both class and ethnic divisions in the country.

 Although the protests began in the far-western protest of Xinjiang, they have since spread across the entire Chinese mainland from Urumqi to Shanghai and Beijing. The fire happened in a relatively poor western province with a high population of Muslims who have historically faced systematic oppression from the Chinese government. Despite this tragedy affecting a Muslim region of China, people of different ethnicities in the country’s eastern provinces have stood up in solidarity. Even more, concerning for Chinese officials is that the protests have created a cross-class unity against China’s universally restrictive policies. What began as worker protests turned into middle-class students protesting on the campuses of China’s most elite universities. 

Over the weekend, police began to detain those who participated in the protest. One protester told the press, “In Shanghai, a lot of people have already been detained, not only last night. They did it for everybody, for all the people, for the delivery guys not to be locked in their apartments, for everybody to be able to receive medicines and food. We need to help these people. Free those people in Shanghai.”

Protesters hold up blank sheets of paper as they demonstrate. One protester explained, “The white paper represents everything we want to say but cannot say.” It is clear that the universally restrictive policies enforced by the Chinese government has caused the Chinese people to become united against the government in a way the country hasn’t seen for decades.

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