Thousands of people took to the streets in parts of Shanghai, Beijing and other cities in China on Sunday to protest the country’s harsh zero-Covid policy, which includes stringent lockdowns and repeated mass testing—a sign of growing public discontent over the anti-pandemic approach that has been embraced by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his administration.
A candlelight vigil in Shanghai—China’s economic hub and its most populous city—began on Saturday night and grew into a protest as people shouted slogans demanding the lifting of lockdowns across China including in the city of Urumqi, Reuters reported.
A deadly fire in a building in Urumqi, the locked-down capital of the Xinjiang autonomous region, which led to the death of at least 10 people on Thursday has served as a trigger for the ongoing protest against China’s draconian anti-pandemic rules.
Similar protests also took place at Beijing’s Tsinghua University—one of China’s top education institutes—where people held up blank pieces of paper to protest censorship as they chanted for democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression.
Similar protests led by university students were also seen in cities like Nanjing and Xi’an, reported the website What’s On Weibo, which covers Chinese social media trends.
35,183. That’s the total number of new Covid-19 cases that China officially reported on Saturday, its highest single-day case number since the pandemic began. This could further call into question the effectiveness of the harsh lockdowns and repeated mass testing, which have failed to curb the caseload while causing an economic slowdown as well as poor access to food and non-Covid healthcare.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The protests over the weekend pose one the most visible challenges to China’s leader Xi Jinping since the start of the pandemic. Xi, who secured an unprecedented third term in power last month, has been a vocal backer of zero-Covid, making him one of the targets of anger during the current protests. The protests are likely to put pressure on him to back down from the stubborn zero Covid stance, which could help assuage the protestors.
Alternatively, Xi could choose to crack down on protestors across the country, but such a move could backfire and fuel larger protests.