Chinese citizens are protesting the communist nation’s strict COVID policies, with at least one demonstration turning violent.
Protests intensified over the weekend in major cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan. According to media reports, a demonstration in Shanghai eventually devolved into chaos, with police clashing with protesters and deploying pepper spray. The protests emerged as a response to the “zero COVID” policies imposed by the Chinese Communist Party government since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government … I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t. Our COVID-19 policy is a game and is not based on science or reality,” one protester in Shanghai told Reuters.
The protests reportedly began on Thursday after ten people were killed in a fire at a residential high-rise building in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang autonomous region. Videos of the incident posted on social media spawned accusations that lockdowns contributed to the deaths, the New York Times and Reuters reported. Residents of the city have been locked down and prevented from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days at a time, Reuters added.
“We just want our basic human rights. We can’t leave our homes without getting a test. It was the accident in Xinjiang that pushed people too far,” another protester told Reuters.
According to the Associated Press and Reuters, protesters gathered at Wulumuqi Road in Shanghai on Saturday, which is named after Urumqi, to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the fire. Around 100 police officers stood by to reportedly keep demonstrators from gathering.
At some point during the night, police deployed pepper spray into a crowd of about 300 protesters. The witness told the AP that one of his friends was beaten, and two others were pepper sprayed. He added that police stepped on his feet while he tried to prevent them from taking his friend away; he also lost his shoes in the chaos and was left barefoot.
Outside Shanghai, major cities and college campuses were also the scenes of major protests. Reuters reported that demonstrations broke out in the cities of Wuhan, Chengdu, Lanzhou, and Beijing on Sunday. Protests in Wuhan reportedly turned violent, with demonstrators smashing through metal barricades, overturning testing tents, and demanding an end to lockdowns. The New York Times reported another protest in the city of Korla in northern Xinjiang.
Meanwhile, a peaceful protest reportedly took place in memory of the Urumqi victims on the campus of Tsinghua University in Beijing, the alma mater of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Protests were also reported at the Communication University of China in Nanjing, Peking University in Beijing, and the Wuhan University of Technology.
In several cases, protesters reportedly took aim directly at Xi. “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping,” protesters reportedly shouted at the Saturday demonstration in Shanghai, per Reuters.
“We want freedom,” others chanted, according to the New York Times.
“Xi Jinping!” “Step down!” another group chanted back and forth, NYT reported.
China and the Communist Party are under international pressure to ease the “zero COVID” restrictions that have kept infections to a minimum but severely damaged China’s economy.
“Under the zero-COVID strategy, China weathered the initial impact of the pandemic well, allowing the economy to recover swiftly from the early-2020 lockdowns and to expand the global supply of medical goods and durable goods significantly at a critical time for the global economy,” International Monetary Fund First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said in a statement. “However, China’s growth has since slowed and remains under pressure amid recurring COVID outbreaks, deep challenges in the property sector, and slowing global demand.”