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The biggest wave of social discontent since Tiananmen sweeps through China

Demonstrations have spread throughout the country. / ec

Protests against the ‘zero covid’ strategy lead to political demands not seen since 1989

“Down with the Communist Party! Down with Xi Jinping!” The spirits of the residents of Shanghai heated up last Saturday night to demand the resignation of the president of China. It was one of the many spontaneous demonstrations that spread through the second world power to show the indignation of its population with the restrictions imposed to combat the covid, coinciding with the largest wave of infections of the entire pandemic. Today a new record has been reported: almost 40,000 cases in one day.

In an unusual twist, the usual messages related to the economic impact of this situation led to social and political slogans. We want freedom, no more restrictions! Dogs are freer than us!” They shouted in Beijing, where even students from China’s most prestigious university, Tsinghua, have demonstrated.

“Give me freedom or give me death!” exclaimed a young man after an impromptu speech, in which he mentioned that players like Cristiano Ronaldo have overcome the covid and continue in top form, and before the Police tried to arrest him in Chongqing. To everyone’s surprise, the neighbors joined him and prevented the arrest, insulting the agents.

In Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, protesters took to the streets a day earlier to denounce the delay of firefighters in a fire that left at least ten dead. Many attribute the delay to the barricades and checkpoints erected to confine a city that is undergoing a quarantine of more than three months. Brandishing the national banner, they sang the Chinese anthem: ‘Rise up who refuse to be slaves!’ Shortly after, the authorities affirmed that they had already managed to subdue the virus and that they will begin a gradual opening of the city.

The protests, which have varied greatly in scale and violence, have been experienced in all the cardinal points of the country: in Guangzhou, to the south, the residents continue to pull down the red fences that delimit the confined neighborhoods; in a town in northern Inner Mongolia, they even detained one of its leaders for hours; And in Wuhan, the city in the center where the pandemic broke out and which experienced its first total confinement, the crowd came out with blank pages to protest censorship. It is, without a doubt, the largest wave of social discontent in China since the student protests that, in 1989, led to the Tiananmen massacre.


Despite the fact that social networks work overtime to eliminate content critical of the Government, to the point that many accounts have become a hole that only contains black messages, the population’s weariness with the covid zero strategy is more how obvious And, although the authorities are avoiding by all means to repress it with violence, today cities like Shanghai have seen a notable increase in police presence.

Wulumuqi Street in the economic capital, which takes its name from the Xinjiang capital and where protesters gathered on Saturday, has been cordoned off. And downtown Shanghai has been filled with police vehicles. In other parts of the country, signal inhibitors have even been detected to prevent the sharing of videos and photographs of what is happening, episodes that the local press completely omits. Only Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the official daily ‘Global Times’ and one of China’s most prominent journalists, has dared to timidly criticize measures that he no longer considers effective.

But you cannot put doors to cyberspace, and anger overflows through all the cracks of a system that is being questioned. “I supported the restrictions at first. I thought we could eliminate a virus that seemed lethal to me. But it is not like that: the world is living a normal life and we, as retards, are screwing up our lives. Why? We have vaccines and, according to official data, although there are tens of thousands of cases every day, no one dies. Why is the government doing this to us?” asked a young man from Shanghai who asked to remain anonymous.

“The way of life of many millions of people is being endangered. Tourism is in ruins, shops close every two by three, and citizens live with so much uncertainty that we cannot make any kind of plans. You go out in the morning and you don’t know if you will be able to return home after work or if they have sealed it for you, “adds an administrative officer from Beijing who has also participated in protests. In a video, a Spanish teacher in Guangzhou shows what it is like to live under the zero covid strategy, confirms all these points, and acknowledges that there is more fear of confinement than of the virus itself.

An unusual affront against the regime

Demonstrating in China is much more common than is believed in the West. However, the vast majority of protests are related to economic aspects. The population is pragmatic and has no political ambitions -nor alternatives to the Communist Party-, so it moves when its pocket is touched. The exception to this rule are demonstrations against other countries, which the government not only allows but encourages as part of its strategy to foster nationalism.

On this occasion, however, it is different: the chants against the party and the president himself, confirmed just over a month ago as the most powerful man in China since Mao Zedong, are an affront against the political regime itself, whose legitimacy is based on its ability to improve the well-being of the population. The zero covid strategy, added to a limping global economy, is hindering the growth of the second world power and undermining this tacit contract between the Government and its subjects.

China’s GDP is growing at the slowest rate since it began opening up to the world, and the prospects are not buoyant. In fact, everything points to the end of 2022, the worst year of the pandemic for the Asian giant, with economic growth lower even than that of Spain, an anomaly if one takes into account that its rate was normally four or five times ours. . And the population notes that impact: youth unemployment, for example, is at a maximum of close to 20%.

The authorities point to two main reasons to justify maintaining, and even increasing, the restrictions: the weakness of the country’s health system, and the low vaccination rate of the older population, which resists vaccination. “With the billions that have been spent on the tests that we have to do every two days, health could have improved in the last three years. And if they can keep us in constant confinement and separate even children from their families, can’t they force the elderly to get vaccinated?” criticizes a young man from Shanghai.

“Everything has stopped making sense. We still have to start thinking about changing the system », she says. And it is precisely this idea that the Chinese government fears the most. Of course, the leaders are fully aware that 2022 is not 1989, and for this reason, the Police are showing remarkable restraint in repressing this unexpected wave of discontent.

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