STUDENTS take part in a protest against Covid-19 curbs at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in this still image taken from a video on Sunday.—Reuters
STUDENTS take part in a protest against Covid-19 curbs at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in this still image taken from a video on Sunday.—Reuters

SHANGHAI: Hundreds of people took to the streets in China’s major cities on Sunday to protest against the country’s zero-Covid policy in a rare outpouring of public anger against the state.

China’s hardline virus strategy is stoking public frustration, with many growing weary of snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns.

A deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region, has become a fresh catalyst for public anger, with many blaming Covid lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts. Authorities deny the claims.

On Sunday night, between 300 and 400 people gathered on the banks of a river in the capital Beijing for several hours, with some shouting: “We are all Xinjiang people! Go Chinese people!” Reporters at the scene described the crowd singing the national anthem and listening to speeches, while on the other side of the canal bank, a line of police cars waited.

Cars honked in support as several hundred people who remained past midnight waved blank sheets of paper, symbolising censorship. In the central megacity of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, multiple livestreams that were quickly censored showed crowds walking through the streets cheering and filming on their phones.

Shanghai clashes

In downtown Shanghai, a reporter saw police clashing with groups of protesters, as officers tried to move people away from the site of an earlier demonstration on Wulumuqi street — named after the Mandarin for Urumqi.

Crowds that had gathered overnight — some of whom chanted “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!” — were dispersed by morning. But in the afternoon, hundreds rallied in the same area with blank sheets of paper and flowers to hold what appeared to be a silent protest, an eyewitness said. Social media videos from the area that appeared to be taken in the late afternoon showed the crowd chanting.

Footage from several different angles showed a man holding a bouquet of yellow flowers being dragged into a police car at one intersection as onlookers shouted.

By evening, dozens of policemen in yellow high-vis jackets formed a thick line, cordoning off the streets where the protests had taken place.

University protests

Earlier in the day, hundreds also rallied at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University to protest against lockdowns, one witness who wished to remain anonymous said.

“At 11:30am students started holding up signs at the entrance of the canteen, then more and more people joined,” they said, estimating there were 200 to 300 people present, some holding blank bits of paper.

Participants sang the national anthem and “the Internationale” — a standard of the international communist movement — and chanted “freedom will prevail” and “no to lockdowns, we want freedom”, they said.

A video that appeared to be taken in the same location showed students shouting, “Democracy and the rule of law, freedom of expression”, and was quickly taken down.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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