Protests against China’s strict zero-Covid policy and restrictions on freedoms took place in cities around the country over the weekend in a wave of civil disobedience not seen on the mainland before under President Xi Jinping.
China has maintained a stringent approach to Covid, even as restrictions in other countries have eased.
Zero-Covid, which aims to isolate every infected person, has helped to keep China’s case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries. Public acceptance is wearing thin after a recent rise in infections prompted many cities to tighten controls.
The chart below shows Covid case numbers in China since 2020:
And this chart shows Covid deaths over the same period:
The protests began in the capital of the far west Xinjiang region on Friday, after footage of a fire in a residential building that killed at least 10 people the day before led to accusations that a Covid lockdown was a factor. People sang China’s national anthem with its lyric “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves” and shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
Protesters gathered on Middle Urumqi Road – named after the Xinjiang capital – on Saturday and Sunday. Late on Saturday night they called for the removal of the Communist party and president Xi Jinping chanting: “Communist party! Step down! Xi Jinping! Step down!”
Police made a series of arrests over the weekend and by Monday morning had installed barriers down the sides of Middle Urumqi Road.
Protests took place on Sunday and into early Monday morning at sites including the elite Tsinghua University, where students shouted “freedom will prevail”, and a stretch of the 3rd Ring Road near the Liangma River.
The scenes echoed a protest at the Sitong Bridge on 13 October, when two large banners were unfurled, drawing widespread attention on social media.
Pandemic barricades were pushed down on Saturday in the city where the world’s first Covid-19 cases were reported in December 2019. On Saturday and Sunday protesters gathered at various locations, singing the national anthem and chanting “Lift the ban! We want to live!”.
On Sunday thousands of people held up sheets of blank paper, a symbol of the fight against censorship, on Wangping Street, while others sang and walked together around Dongmen bridge.
Late on Sunday and into Monday morning protesters gathered at various locations, shouting “let people go!” and “lift the ban!”
Smaller protests also took place in Nanjing, Dali, Changsha and Xi’an.