With the police out in force, there was no word of additional protests against strict government anti-pandemic measures Tuesday in Beijing, as temperatures dropped below freezing. Shanghai, Nanjing, and other cities where online calls for gatherings had been issued were also reportedly quiet.
At the end of last week, several countries held protests against China’s unusually strict anti-virus measures. The decision to hold these rallies was an important step in pushing back against the ruling Communist Party.
Monday evening at People’s Square subway station in Shanghai, eyewitnesses reported police performing random checks on phones. “I was scared to give my name because I’m planning a protest,” said one person who declined to give his name, as he was afraid of being taken away by the police if they found out he was planning a protest.
In Hong Kong, Monday night 50 mainland university students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong lit candles and performed in a show of support for those living in mainland China. The students hid their faces to avoid official retaliation by chanting “No PCR tests but freedom!” and “Oppose dictatorship, don’t be slaves!”
These protests come after a similar one in Hong Kong earlier this year and are the biggest of this sort in more than a year, occurring under rules imposed to crush the city’s pro-democracy movement. The Hong Kong region has its own laws and is currently self-governed and separate from China despite being part of China.
I’ve wanted to speak up for a long time but never had the chance. I went to a demonstration in Hong Kong this past week and held up a piece of paper that symbolized my defiance against intense censorship. If people on the Mainland can’t take it anymore, then I can’t either.
It’s not clear how many people have been detained in the country since protests kicked off on Friday. Anger over the deaths of 10 people in a fire started by protesters has led some to question whether the victims were blocked from escaping by the doors or other anti-virus controls while they fought to put out the fire. Authorities denied that, but it became a target for public frustration about their control measures.
Some local authorities eased restrictions on Monday. This comes amid increased scrutiny from the international community, in response to recent demonstrations and incidents where Xi was unable to visit an area due to protests.
The government of Beijing announced that they would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections were found.
According to China News Service, an official with the city’s disaster control center said, “Passages must remain clear for medical personnel transportation, emergency escapes, and rescues.”
Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trade center that is the hottest spot in China’s expansion of pandemic fever, announced that some residents will no longer need to take these tests.
The U.S. Embassy advises their citizens to prepare for a variety of possible eventualities and that Ambassador Nicholas Burns and other American diplomats have “regularly raised our concerns on many of these issues directly.”
“The U.S. Embassy encourages all U.S. citizens to keep a 14-day supply of essential medications, bottled water, and food for yourselves and any members of your household,” the statement said on Monday.
Washington National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby said, referring to lockdowns, “obviously people in China have concerns about that.”
“Although we think they should be able to do this peacefully,” Kirby said during a Monday briefing.
Urumqi, where the fire last week occurred, and another Xinjiang region city in the northwest announced markets, businesses, and public bus service would all resume by this week.
The strategy “Zero COVID” has helped to keep China’s case numbers lower than those of the US and some major countries. However, tolerance for this approach has been declining as people confined at home in some areas say they lack access to food and medical supplies.
For months, the ruling party promised to reduce the disruption that viruses caused by changing the rules known as “the 20 Guidelines.” Unfortunately, an increase in infection rates has prompted cities to tighten their control measures.
While the number of cases on Tuesday dipped slightly to 38,421, it’s still noticeably higher than the past few days. Out of that number, 34,860 people who showed no symptoms caught the illness.
A pro-government newspaper called for its aggressive anti-virus approach to continue, showing that Xi’s government has no plans to ease up.
With each new release of the plan to prevent or control fire, there is anecdotal evidence that it has been successful. This has been confirmed by experts and commentators who say they’ve seen positive changes in practice.
In Hong Kong, protesters at Chinese University put up posters that said “Do Not Fear. Do Not Forget. Do Not Forgive.” They also sang songs from popular Broadway musicals such as “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
“I want to show my support,” said a 24-year-old mainland student named G, who did not want to provide her last name out of fear of retaliation. “There are things that I don’t have the opportunity to know in the past.”
The security guards at the university have videos of the incident, but there was no sign of police.
Forty-four protesters held up blank sheets of paper and flowers in mourning for zero COVID policies. They said the policies were leading to death and were against a specific policy that was overly following a law.
Cops literally cornered off the area to prevent anything from happening that would violate the rules to keep people from joining groups of over 12. They didn’t arrest anyone, but they did take their ID details.
Hong Kong has tightened security controls and has been rolling back Western-style civil liberties since China launched a campaign in 2019 to crush a pro-democracy movement. The territory has its own anti-virus strategy that is separate from the mainland.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee has led the crackdown on protesters, including on university campuses.
On Monday, both Hong Kong’s government and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, issued statements reiterating the importance of public order and the authority of the National Security Law. This law gives authorities sweeping powers to charge demonstrators with crimes such as sedition.
Protests over the weekend have broken out near Hong Kong, in Chengdu and Chongqing in China’s southwest, and in Nanjing in the east. The demonstrations in Guangzhou come after earlier clashes with police over quarantine.
Most protesters were dissatisfied with the harsh restrictions, but it was clear that some felt more anger toward Xi. In a video verified by the Associated Press, Shanghai protesters on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”
According to the British Broadcasting Corp., one of its reporters was beaten, kicked, handcuffed, and detained for several hours by Shanghai police. However, he was released later.
The BBC criticized what it said was the Chinese government’s explanation that its reporter was detained to prevent him from contracting the coronavirus from people in the crowd. “We do not consider this a credible explanation,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said the BBC reporter failed to identify himself and “didn’t voluntarily present” his press credentials.
Zhao stressed, “Foreign journalists need to follow China’s laws and regulations.”
The RTS correspondent and cameraman were detained while conducting a live broadcast but were released after a few minutes. An AP journalist was detained but later released.