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Chinese regime orders massive police deployment to contain popular protests

Demonstrators hold up blank sheets of paper in protest of covid restrictions, in Beijing, China. / REUTERS

The extensive presence of security forces slows down the protesters, who show their discontent with the display of blank pages

The Chinese regime is playing two simultaneous games, one against the virus and the other against the public, and in both it is losing. The biggest outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic coincides with an outbreak of the ‘covid zero’ policy, which for more than two and a half years has suffocated daily life with no end in sight. Some paths that lead the country, apparently without remedy, towards a chaotic health and social crisis.

A large police deployment was guarding the areas near the Liangma River in Beijing this afternoon. Its threatening presence has prevented the repetition of the historic day of demonstrations that took place last night. Hundreds of young people took to the streets of the Chinese capital, as well as those of many other cities, to vociferate their weariness in the face of a pandemic that, because it has not fully arrived, has not just gone away either.

The crowd chanted the national anthem, with particular emphasis on the ‘qilai’ in the refrain: ‘Get up’. “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves,” continues, in fact, the revolutionary lyrics. “We do not want PCRs, we want freedom!” Was another of the most repeated proclamations. However, attendees were wary of pointing their sharp criticism upwards. “We are not asking for anyone’s resignation,” they clarified in some groups.

The abuses and accidents of the confinements fill the patience of the Chinese

For now, the protests limit their repudiation of the ‘zero covid’ policy and refuse, except for some minority voices, the anti-government label. However, the evolution of this type of movement is always uncertain, particularly in the eyes of a totalitarian system obsessed with increased control since Xi Jinping came to power. Already honored as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, he dictates a re-ideologization of society in which fewer discordant notes fit than ever.

The demonstrators and their moderation harmonized with the mobilized agents, who after midnight approached them docile and, in another context, almost suggestive. “Come on, let’s all go home.” Faced with specific collisions, both sides tried to calm their respective hotheads.

This apathetic tightness left room for wit. Several young people carried blank sheets that seemed to confirm the thesis of the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan – “the medium is the message” – in his intention to avoid a censorship that operates tirelessly in the shadows, erasing all digital traces of the protests. So much so that a paper company in Shanghai has announced today the temporary suspension of the supply of sheets, converted into support for subversion.

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Also humor. When a police officer ordered the chants of “No more quarantines!” to stop, the crowd immediately went on to demand “More quarantines!”, a reaction that did not satisfy the plaintiff, since there is no authoritarianism that understands ironies. A student encouraged the security forces to withdraw in order to follow the Spain-Germany live. That same proposal was launched by a couple of agents to this correspondent after checking his passport – “But what are you doing here now!” -, but not before reproaching the absence of “Saierxiao Lamosi”, Sergio Ramos, in the list of summoned to the World Cup.

The marches took place in the Chaoyang district, the most important in Beijing, whose authorities have asked residents over the last week not to leave their homes if it is not essential due to the rise in cases. Since then, a semi-confinement has prevailed in the Chinese capital that forces the closure of offices, schools and all kinds of commercial premises. Only the supermarkets continue to be open as normal, and a large part of the purchases are dispatched thanks to the mediation of home delivery men. Many of them sleep in the cool, despite the autumn cold, so as not to be hindered by the isolation of residential complexes, which are increasingly common. China has registered today a new daily maximum of positives for the fifth consecutive day, which for the first time have exceeded 40,000.

arrests and assaults

In Shanghai, on the other hand, the atmosphere was very different, perhaps because it was the second day of concentrations. Police made several arrests, including a BBC journalist who was handcuffed and assaulted. The British entity has protested today through a statement, in which it denounces that the Chinese authorities “have not offered any explanation or apology” for what happened, “beyond the statement made by the officials that the reporter had been detained for his own good, to prevent him from catching covid in the crowd. The Foreign Correspondents Club in China has also issued a note, noting that “journalists from various media outlets were physically harassed by the Police while covering the riots.”

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This tension demonstrates the historical relevance of these movements of civic disobedience, unprecedented since the mobilizations that in 1989 led to the massive Tiananmen protests, then also spread throughout the country. Its tragic conclusion, with the Communist Party launching troops against the protesters, has marked recent Chinese history. However, censorship has largely succeeded in removing the memory from the collective memory.

A young man who was walking the streets of Beijing last night was nervous about the uncertain course of events, but at the same time he expressed his confidence in the authorities. “The Police will never hurt us,” he assured, knowing in his ignorance that only past games are lost in advance.

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