Protests against the tight anti-pandemic lock begin to spread in China. Young people and students led this Saturday night several outbreaks of demonstrations in different parts of the country, with the epicenter in Shanghai. Holding blank sheets of paper, which have become the symbol of these protests, and shouting “We want freedom!”, “Open China!”, hundreds of residents of the Asian giant’s financial center gathered on Urumqi street, of the Xinjiang capital, where 10 people died in a building fire on Thursday. According to numerous videos that have circulated at full speed on social networks, suddenly, harsh messages against the Chinese Communist Party and its leader, President Xi Jinping, began to be heard, who have been asked to take a step back with a “! Xi Jinping! Resignation!”, something that until recently seemed rare and extraordinary in this country where everyone knows what happens when one goes out into the streets with libertarian chants. Some witnesses are denouncing through the Internet that there are a dozen detainees.
The choice of the location for a concentration that has brought together between 500 and a thousand people – according to the count of a European reporter on the ground – is not accidental. The fatigue and anger accumulated after almost three years of strict covid zero policy needed a spark, and that seems to have been the tragedy that occurred this week in Urumqi. A part of the population has interpreted that the ten victims of the fire could have been saved if the sanitary measures that kept the area semi-confined and protected with barriers that prevented the firefighters from arriving on time had not been applied. The images of the burning building and the calls for help from inside have exploded Chinese social networks, which since Thursday have been demanding that the authorities relax anti-pandemic protocols.
Foreign journalists are reporting this Sunday via Twitter that a new impromptu demonstration against the Police has begun on the Shanghai street where the rallies were held yesterday. Several people have come with flowers to the place, which the agents have not allowed them to deposit on the ground. The crowd is calling for the release of the detainees, according to the images that are being shared live.
The protests that began on Friday night in the streets of Urumqi have spread especially through the Faculties of Image and Communication in large cities such as Nanjing, Xi’an, Chengdu or Guangzhou, where students have gathered in vigils for the deceased Xinjiang. The rallies have left emotional images in which dozens of young people chanted in unison “long live the people” and sang The International, while turning on the lights on their mobile phones. The protests are reminiscent of those organized after the death from covid of Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors who alerted in Wuhan about the appearance of a new contagious virus, whose messages were immediately silenced.
In addition to the blank page, the use of masks with the inscription “404” has also spread among the protesters, in reference to the recurring censorship in networks of all kinds of messages related to incidents related to the pandemic. 404 is the most frequent error code these days when trying to open a page or file in WeChat or Weibo posts. Even some verses of the March of the Volunteers, the national anthem, have been blocked for being part of the most common chants in recent demonstrations.
Rallies in Beijing
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The concentrations have also reached Beijing, the capital of the country, this Sunday. As reported on social networks, this noon (local time), a crowd of students has gathered at the prestigious Tsinghua University, where they have demanded “Freedom of expression” and “Democracy as the rule of law.” The campuses of the big cities in China have had very restricted access and exit for students since the start of the pandemic.
The Xinjiang tragedy has heightened public anger at a time when China is treading uncharted territory, registering the highest number of infections since the start of the pandemic. Three years after the first cases were detected, the Chinese government remains committed to implementing harsh lockdowns and mass testing to contain the transmission of the virus. During this time, the vast majority of the population has accepted that this control was necessary to avoid the high numbers of deaths that have been recorded in the United States, India or Europe, but patience seems to have reached a limit this year, when You are seeing other nations, after promoting vaccination, return to a life similar to the one before 2020, even if they continue to record infections.
This Sunday, the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Communist Party, publishes an editorial in which it emphasizes the need for perseverance and calls for continuing to adhere to the zero covid policy. A good part of the residents of Beijing are currently locked in their homes, and restaurants, parks and schools closed, while the numbers of positives are exceeded every day. Big cities like Guangzhou and Chongqing are virtually in full lockdown.
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