Source: Twitter (@badiucao)
Last weekend, hundreds of people in some of China's largest cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, gathered in protests against the Chinese government's harsh 'zero-covid' policy. Most protesters demanded the lockdown measures to be removed, while others demanded freedom of speech, and the removal of the country's top leader Xi Jinping.
Strict lockdowns are put in place in areas where even a handful of cases show up, while schools, businesses and shops (except for those selling food) are shut down until no new infection is reported. These harsh COVID restrictions, known as the 'zero-covid policy', have led China to report the lowest number of COVID-related cases and deaths, relative to its population, but have drawn the ire of the Chinese citizens multiple times in the past.
The latest protests in the country, where COVID infections are currently seeing a surge, have now spread across cities from the west to east into an unprecedented demonstration of dissent in the country with a long history of authoritarian rule. In retaliation, the Chinese authorities have clamped down on protesters, and have even detained and assaulted a BBC journalist for reporting on the situation.
China's Zero-Covid Woes
Last Thursday, an apartment building in Urumuqi - the capital of the western Chinese province Xinjiang - was engulfed in a deadly fire, killing 10 people, and injuring nine. The city of 4 million residents had seen some of the longest lockdowns in the country, with the current one lasting more than 100 days.
Shortly after the fire, videos of which went viral on Chinese social media, netizens deduced that the lockdown measures hampered residents from escaping the building, and made it difficult for firefighters to reach them. The next day, protests broke out in Urumuqi, with a viral video showing hundreds of residents marching towards a government building, and demanding the end of lockdown.
While the Urumuqi fire may have sparked the ongoing widespread protests, the dissent being seen in the streets of Chinese cities is a culmination of various incidents linked to the zero-covid policy, which have sparked anger and protests among the Chinese citizens time and again.
In September, a bus carrying residents to a COVID quarantine facility in China crashed, killing 27 people. The incident, which happened in the Guizhou province, where only 2 COVID-related deaths have been reported so far, sparked anger among Chinese netizens who took to the heavily surveilled social media platforms to express their resentment.
Last week, protests erupted in the city of Zhengzhou, which house the world's biggest iPhone factory, after factory workers complained of not getting the bonus promised to them to work through the quarantine. Some other also complained of being stuck in quarantine without any food. Soon, videos went viral showing workers clashing with people in hazmat suits and the riot police.
Widespread Protests And Clampdown
While so far the protests were limited to local areas, the ongoing protests have spread from Urumuqi to the far corners of the country.
CNN has reportedly verified at least 20 demonstrations taking place in 15 different cities across the country. This includes major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu.
A candlelight vigil was held in Shanghai's Urumuqi road, in a symbolic attempt to protest against the Urumuqi fire fatalitieis. A video showed a protester being detained by the police after walking at an intersection in Urumuqi road holding flowers.
While most of the protesters stuck to the issue of zero-covid policy, and demanded its lifting, some other protesters - especially in Shanghai, as reported by the New York Times - went as far as to demand the stepping down of the top leader Xi Jinping. According to the report, the protesters were unclear as to whether the gather was a vigil in support of those who died in the Urumuqi fire, or an act of defiance against the authoritarian administration.
BBC correspondent in Shanghai, Edward Lawrence, who was covering the protest on Saturday, was assaulted and detained by Shanghai Police, with videos of the arrest going viral on social media.
BBC put out a statement later to condemn the act, and said that the Chinese authorities defended their act by stating that Lawrence was arrested for his own good, to prevent him from catching COVID-19.
Lawrence later took to Twitter to share that the Chinese authorities in Shanghai were forcing people to delete photos of protests from the weekend.
William Yang, the East Asia Correspondent for DW, reported on Twitter citing his sources from Shanghai that the police were also checking people's phone at random to look for apps like Telegram, Instagram and Twitter, which was used during the weekend to share updates on the protest with the outside world.
As the Chinese authorities try to quell any further protests, and crackdown on those who protested across the cities, and on social media platforms, the atmosphere in the Chinese cities where protests took place remain tense and uncertain.
BOOM has reached out to several foreign correspondents of international media outlets in China, and the story shall be updated with comments as and when we receive them.
Do you always want to share the authentic news with your friends?