China has been rocked by some of the most significant acts of civil disobedience in years after vigils in Shanghai and other major cities marked a deadly fire in the Xinjiang region. have turned into protests against President Xi Jinping’s draconian policies on Covid-19.
Social media posts have blame death of 10 people in a fire on Thursday at an apartment complex in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, about Covid-19 restrictions, despite the authorities’ denial.
At Wulumuqi Road in Shanghai, named after the city of Xinjiang, hundreds attended a vigil on Saturday night. Video and photos of the incident, verified by the FT, show clashes between police and protesters in the early hours of Sunday.
Earlier, some protesters stood on police cars and others chanted “we don’t want PCR tests”. Some called for the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping to “resign”.
This expression is a direct echo of a rare demonstration where a poster is hung on a Bridge in Beijing last month, including a list of slogans based on the phrase “[we] don’t want”, including “we don’t want to be locked out, we want to be free”.
“I know what I’m doing is very dangerous, but it’s my duty,” said one student who rushed to attend the vigil after seeing it online. Another said the event started as a silent tribute to those who died in the fire in Urumqi, but then “lost control”.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered again at the memorial site, some carrying white flowers, a symbol of mourning in Chinese culture. Police closed nearby roads, removed flowers from lampposts and ordered people to go home.
China has sought to contain the virus through strict measures lockdown and quarantine measures For nearly three years, the policy is under great pressure from rising cases, public discontent and a slowing economy. On Sunday, authorities reported the largest number of daily infections recorded for the fourth day in a row, with the current figure nearing 40,000.
Elsewhere on Chinese social media, footage of the protests, originally by groups in Urumqi from Friday night but later across the country, was widely circulated but also censored. .
Videos showed students gathering at a vigil at Nanjing Communication University, while other images also emerged of a similar vigil at a university in Wuhan.
At Peking University in Beijing, graffiti on the steps went viral echoing several slogans from the bridge in October, including “we don’t want PCR tests, we want food.” .
A student at the university said the graffiti was partially removed early Sunday morning and a food truck was parked in front of the painting to obscure the view.
Pictures showing protesters holding up blank sheets of paper, symbolizing censorship, have been widely circulated on social media.
An attendee of a prayer meeting in Shanghai confirmed that white pieces of paper were also hung there. They said a police officer told the crowd he understood how people were feeling, but asked them to “keep it to heart”.
Sheena Chestnut Greitens, a China expert, and Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said widespread unrest could “become a serious test of social control tools.” association developed under Xi Jinping”.
Authorities are Struggling with covid in many major cities, including Guangzhou, Chongqing and Beijing. China’s previous outbreaks have been successfully contained, but they often take place in single cities, such as in Shanghai earlier this year.
In Beijing, where restrictive measures have been stepped up in recent days but authorities have not yet ended a city-wide lockdown, some residents have confronted officials about the complex-level closure. to negotiate their release.
There are signs that people are embroiled in protests against such restrictions elsewhere in China. A Shenzhen resident in her 30s told the FT that images of protests in Urumqi and Beijing provided “inspiration” after peace talks with officials aimed at lifting the blockade. Their home has failed.
He said he and his neighbors gathered at the gate shouting “let us go” and that restrictions were later lifted.
“We copied and pasted what the residents of Beijing and Urumqi did and it worked,” he said.
Additional reporting by Cheng Leng in Hong Kong, Edward White in Seoul and Joe Leahy in Beijing