Reports have been gathered which show the steep rise in public protests this year in China, accounting for more than 430 of them, while the authorities’ have taken rather oppressive steps to intervene and disperse of the crowds.
Despite the government’s attempts to rule the country with an iron-fist, people have taken to streets to display their dissatisfaction emerging from the zero-tolerance Covid policy that Xi’s regime has enforced across the country.
The implementation of extended Covid lockdowns in areas where cases of the virus appear, or the precautionary measures put in place in densely populated areas has resulted in the lives of citizens being brought to a halt.
People have been driven to the point of protest owing to a lack of pay-outs and unpaid worker wages, unavailability of daily necessities and the apparent apathy of the government to the plight of its citizens.
Discontent amongst the public against the tyrannical measures taken ‘for the good of the people’ has been brewing for a long time, and has resulted in demonstrations across multiple major provinces in the country, including the cities of Shanghai, Shandong, Beijing, Anhui and Hong Kong. The administration’s quick response to squash these anti-establishment movements have furthered the cycle of disarray and dissent in the nation.
China experienced the worst breakout of Covid-19 cases in the country’s past, earlier this year in April. The lives of nearly 200 million people were impacted by this wave, and the CCP administration placed over 23 cities under complete or partial lockdown, in adherence with its zero-Covid policy. Since then, citizens have been peacefully protesting the continued enforcement of draconian no-tolerance laws to advocate for their rights. More often than not, these protests tended to turn violent upon police intervention. The predicament of the common man- which forced the people to resort to continuous protests all over the country- was evident, with the chant of “???”, translated to “give us supplies” becoming increasingly popular and common amongst the protesting residents of Shanghai.
The surprisingly low number of cases reported in the country are preposterous propaganda, being used to maintain an unrealistic illusion of control on the part of the state. This facade of having contained the spread of the virus, with the use of increasingly rigid and rigorous measures has clearly caused more harm than good to the people. The record-breaking number of demonstrations that the country has seen this year alone shows the spirit of the people to challenge the authority of the state over the handling of this health and consequent humanitarian crisis.
Beijing’s prestigious Peking University was witness to an anger-fuelled demonstration by students over the implementation of the most recent set of pandemic restrictions on campus. Students were also irked by the administration erecting a metal wall between the faculty and student quarters, and the blatantly different set of rules that were put in place for the two groups. A student was reported to have said that everyone’s normal lives had been totally destroyed by the restrictions. The protests at the university were addressed by students as being reminiscent of the May Fourth Movement of mass protests by students in 1919.
Beijing’s political unrest is also marked by the numerous incidents of forced ‘disappearances’ in the wake of protests peppered across the capital. A petitioner hailing from Zhengzhou was beaten at the Xiaohongmen Police Station in Chaoyang, Beijing earlier in the month of July; another human rights defender was intercepted before she boarded a train at Fengtai, Beijing by Suzhou government officials later in the month. Reports have also been gathered of illegal detention of citizens, as that of a businessman in a hotel in Tianjin by city officials, while a petitioner was held in incommunicado detention by the police in an unknown location following him being taken to the station.
The commercial heart of the country has seen its own share of public demonstrations and protests on a large scale. The imposition of lockdowns shook the foundations of uncountable businesses, with small-scale businesses coming to a halt entirely and big brands awaiting further instructions to resume operations. While supply chains worldwide were broken down largely destroying the global trade mechanism, urban unemployment rates at home increased to an all-time high of 6.1 per cent in April 2022. These hardships borne by the people were manifested in the form of various public protests against unfair measures being taken by the government.
The industry which has experienced a significant boom since the pandemic was the Covid-19 testing service. Fourteen protests over unpaid wages have been held since March 2022 by Covid-19 test workers, even as sources report that companies in the area continue to rake in massive profits. Eight of these protests have taken place in Shanghai itself.
Isolated cases of individuals being accosted and beaten by police authorities have been brought to light in the economic hub. Incidents in the month of May have also received wide coverage, of frustrated and wronged citizens rioting against the transgressions of the police and factory employers. More than 100 factory-workers for a Taiwanese Apple supplier in Songjjang district protested against the inhuman working conditions, being overworked and confined during the lockdown. Similar violence at the hands of the police or violent conflicts have been reported in no less than six districts of Shanghai.
Keeping in line with other major cities and provinces, the birthplace of Confucius saw daily-wage labourers and factory workers unite their efforts to agitate against delayed payment and long-due salaries. From March through May, hundreds of factory workers and construction workers were threatened to with violence to call off their demonstrations; in June, school teachers were detained in Yantai, Shandong in a bid to curtail mass gatherings.
Most recently, state-mandated lockdowns have been imposed in August in one of the country’s commerce hubs, Yiwu and the heavily tourist-reliant southern city of Sanya. The capacity of businesses to run normally have been restricted, with non-essential services suspended. With new cases of the virus being confirmed, the zero-Covid measures that the country undertakes severely disrupts the lives and livelihoods in such areas.
The enforcement of these oppressive measures is an indication to watch out for civilian unrest and public protest movements, since public outrage is highly likely to occur in such regions. China’s no-tolerance Zero-Covid policy could continue for years to come as it looks to be working well for Xi’s regime. The government is willing to brave a historic economic slump in the country rather than abandon its restrictive covid policy, even as the country’s foremost e-commerce business group Alibaba’s revenue growth flatlined for the first time.
The CCP is unlikely to drop its absolutist approach to the pandemic, in fact, it is possible that at this point, withdrawing these measures could result in the loss of at least a million citizens of China. Using undemocratic means to keep the virus out and its people in, Xi has accomplished a feat at keeping cases at a minimum. However, the state is made to face the resultant uproar from its citizens, which shall continue for the foreseeable future till the administration effectively addresses the grievances of its people.