Since the beginning of 2022, China is witnessing a constant rise in terms of civilian demonstrations. Across the major political hotspots throughout China which include Shanghai, Shandong, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Anhui, the numbers suggest that there have been 430 civilian demonstrations to date which were followed by 120 authoritarian responses by the state.
The key reason behind this rise in the number of protests is stricter COVID-19 related lockdown restrictions that are being imposed in the areas especially having higher populations. These preventive measures by the state have affected the livelihoods of citizens in the form of delayed salary payments and shortage in the supplies of everyday merchandise. The common citizen believes that this approach taken by the government is very paradoxical considering the situation on the ground.
Chinese authorities have been extremely strict about their ‘zero-COVID’ policy approach even though it is causing a huge financial disruption to the lives of common citizens as they must face repetitive tests and quarantines. Some of the videos circulated on the Chinese social media even show that numerous houses were demolished, and residents have been constantly threatened with punitive actions as part of the COVID crackdown in Shanghai. Domestic travel has been very restricted lately and the travel history of the citizens is being monitored constantly by the authorities. These ruthless and harsh measures have given more reason for the antipathy to grow amongst citizens.
Recently, in Hong Kong, authorities clamped down upon hundreds of protestors who were peacefully demanding their savings from the banks that are facing financial crises. Zhengzhou, which is the provincial capital of Henan also witnessed a similar kind of protest in front of the branch office of the nation’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China. It was attended by almost 1000 protestors and is considered one of the largest protests in recent times in the province. However, protestors feel that their concerns are not reaching the deaf ears of the administration.
During the Beijing Olympics, countries like the U.S., the U.K, Australia, Canada, Japan as well as India refused to send delegations on the ground of human rights abuses in China. Around the same time, Hong Kong observed massive protests since the government was tightening its control around the once autonomous territory. China then passed an exceedingly controversial national security law, which reduces the judicial autonomy of Hong Kong and makes it easier for the state to punish protestors and activists. Immediately after that, almost 150 arrests happened as a part of the government crackdown over protests.
Since 2019, more than 10,000 protestors and activists have been arrested so far. The government used every measure under its authority to curb the resentments which included tear gas, and police batons. So far, almost 2850 protestors have been prosecuted under various charges. These charges include rioting, illegal gathering at mass levels, and possession of weapons according to the official Chinese database. To date, 1172 people which mostly consist of high school and university students are facing sentences in prison.
During April to June 2022, multiple incidences consisting of mostly the working-class resentment towards the state for the issue of delayed salaries/payments were witnessed. Between June and July 2022, Hong Kong also saw several protests which were brutally dealt with by the government. The crackdown from the government included warrants being issued for home searches and arrest of protestors, keeping a check on access to public spaces as well as terminating railway services.
The peaceful protests have gradually turned into violent riots due to repeated stonewalling by the Chinese administration and its excessive response. There have been repeated incidents of growing rage against the administration amongst citizens in the above-mentioned political hotspots. And since the state forcefully deals with these incidents, the rage again increases. Consequently, protests and riots have spiked. Lately, this has been the trend in China.
From the state, one of the measures that have been employed is the tightening of control over social media platforms where the information especially videos and keywords regarding the protests can be shared or accessed. Authorities have enforced censors to filter or wipe out the details of disgruntled people like homebuyers who have invested their money in the projects, but yet to get ownership of their homes and as a result, they have been threatening to pay mortgages. The current timing is very crucial for Beijing especially as President Xi Jinping is expected to be selected chosen for the third consecutive term at the 20th Communist Party Congress later this year. So, considering that in mind, domestic stability is very crucial for the current administration.
There have been few attempts by the government to appease the citizens. But since the regime deeply fears of democratic forces toppling the Chinese Communist Party’s authority, attempts to repress people demanding accountability and change are only likely to expand.