Cory Jennings-DuBois | News Editor
Protests have taken over China in the past few days as angry citizens held camp in the streets of the country’s major cities. These protests are due to China’s “zero covid” policy, which is taken extremely seriously there and enforced heavily.
The population of Shanghai, which is China’s most densely populated city, began their protests starting Saturday night. The chants “We want freedom!” and “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock all of China!” could be heard all through the night, bleeding into the early morning of Sunday. The outraged cries of the citizens quickly turned into incredible scenes of anger amongst the population, where previous, more docile chants turned into words like “Xi Jinping, step down!” and “Communist Party, step down!” These words that directly go against the Chinese government are extremely dangerous to say, which makes these protests even more important.
The beginning spark for these protests, which have also taken place at universities in Beijing, Xi’an, and Nanjing, was said to be a deadly fire in the capital of Xinjiang. The capital Urumqi is one of the areas that has the strictest Covid-19 policies, which do not make the people happy all of the time. In this case, it put the Xinjiang citizens in fatal danger. It was said by bystanders that the reason for the deaths was simultaneously the fire as well as the Covid-19 protocols that prohibited the fire department to attend to the scene rapidly.
When the residents blamed the deaths on the lockdown related protocols, the officials denied said statement and in turn said that the residents’ “ability to rescue themselves was too weak”. This fueled many emotions and flooded the Chinese social media platforms. Protests began in ginormous waves, and brought people together while threatening the covid protocols. Many posts and blogs related to the fire had been deleted, which caused even more of an uproar.
These are not protests that seek to demean the realness of Covid-19- they are protests to make everyone aware of the censorship that occurs within the country. People waved the country’s flag and shouted for lockdowns to be completely lifted. Others participated in a candlelight vigil in Shanghai which quickly turned into a protest scene. Participators held up blank sheets of paper to symbolize the censorship that Chinese citizens experience. The sheets of paper also signal a measure of unity and togetherness among protesters, which is much needed as this is one of the greatest Chinese uprisings in decades. Matt Schrader, an advisor for China at the International Republican Institute in Washington said that mass, anti government protests that have the citizens holding a unified front while also taking place in multiple big cities is a “no-go zone”. He states “It’s the idea that when no form of protest at all is acceptable to the state, then the only thing that you could possibly hold up that won’t offend anybody in power is a blank piece of paper. It’s the idea that any real form of protest online will most likely be censored”.
Contrary to popular belief, protests are not rare in China but Chinese leaders and authorities go to extreme lengths to eliminate any knowledge of them from anywhere. For this exact reason is why the blank sheet of paper is so incredibly important for these protests. It symbolizes unity within the people participating in these protests while simultaneously bringing notice to the censorship that is bound to happen.