The weekend protests followed Friday demonstrations in Urumqi, the capitol of Xinjiang, after a deadly fire killed residents who were locked inside following lockdowns which have lasted more than 100 days. Officials have reported 10 deaths in the fire, however citizens have reported up to 40 who perished.
The protests are a rare display from a typically compliant citizenry, who know that crackdowns on dissent have intensified over the past decade. As the Wall Street Journal notes, " Having protests over the same issue break out in multiple Chinese cities is almost unheard of, outside of nationalist outpourings, such as anti-Japanese protests."
Since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the ruling party has allowed some local demonstrations, but made it a priority to prevent nationwide protests.
On Saturday, videos circulating on social media showed crowds gathering on a street in central Shanghai calling for a lifting of lockdowns. The videos were verified by Storyful, a social-media research company owned by News Corp, parent company of The Wall Street Journal. -WSJ
WATCH: Large protest at Beijing’s Tsinghua University in China over Covid lockdowns pic.twitter.com/BjoEcFKN2I— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) November 27, 2022
Protests are calling for Xi Jinping to step down
During Saturday evening demonstrations in Shanghai - the largest city in the country, people were openly heard shouting anti-government slogans such as "Xi Jinping, step down!" and "Communist party, step down!" the BBC reports.
‘Down with the party! Down with Xi Jinping!’ Free Xinjiang!’ pic.twitter.com/q5jwUQrz5Z— Eva Rammeloo (@eefjerammeloo) November 26, 2022
Demonstrators held blank white banners and lit candles to honor the victims in the Urumqi fire.
One Shanghai protester told the BBC that he felt "shocked and a bit excited" at so many people in the streets - saying it was the first such large-scale demonstration of dissent. A woman told the BBC that police said they feel "the same as you" about the protests, but "they wear their uniforms so they're doing their job."
I've lived in China for 30 years, and I've never seen such a brazenly open and sustained expression of rage against the PRC govt. WeChat is exploding with protest videos and furious vitriol, and civil disobedience is becoming rampant. This is a serious test of CCP governance.— David Moser (@david__moser) November 26, 2022
As the Epoch Times notes; At Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, dozens of people held a peaceful protest against COVID-19 restrictions, according to images and videos posted on social media.
More from protesters who participated in #Shanghai's protest: "The main demand was to put an end to the zero-Covid measures. Some people expressed their dissatisfaction with the Communist Party, while others mourned the death of those in the fire in Urumqi."— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) November 27, 2022
In one video, which Reuters was unable to verify, a Tsinghua university student called on a cheering crowd to speak out. “If we don’t dare to speak out because we are scared of being smeared, our people will be disappointed in us. As a Tsinghua university student, I will regret it for all my life.”
Protests in China are not rare. What *is* rare, are multiple protests over the same issue, at the same time, across the country. The protest below, apparently in central Beijing’s liangmaqiao, is astounding #China #protests pic.twitter.com/UHJCqqF1YG— Tom Mackenzie (@TomMackenzieTV) November 27, 2022
One student who saw the Tsinghua protest described to Reuters feeling taken aback by the protest at one of China’s most elite universities, and Xi’s alma mater.
“People there were very passionate, the sight of it was impressive,” the student said, declining to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
Tsinghua university right now👇🏼 city after city seeing protests small and large against Zero Covid policies and against excesses of Communist Party rule - every hour there seems to be a new one pic.twitter.com/7CbUtzNmjR— Emily Feng 冯哲芸 (@EmilyZFeng) November 27, 2022
One good thing this site actually facilitates: in the past 48 hrs, numerous mini-protests took place across various Chinese college campus against zero COVID policy. Many are censored but they ended up on Twitter, then ppl get to smuggle them back behind GFW, even just briefly pic.twitter.com/dvew9r5dik— Tony Lin 林東尼 (@tony_zy) November 26, 2022
According to the report, "analysts say the government appears to have drastically underestimated growing discontent towards the zero-Covid approach, a policy inextricably linked to Xi Jinping who recently pledged there would be no swerving from it.".
In other areas of the country witnesses gave accounts of police violence, with one protesters telling AP (so who knows if it's true) that one of his friends had been beaten by police, while two others were pepper sprayed.
The BBC saw police officers, private security guards and plain-clothed police officers on the streets, confronting protesters who assembled for a second day.
Demonstrators who led anti-government chants were taken away, and punched or pushed up against a police car in some cases.
Photos and videos have also emerged online that showed students launching their own protests at universities in Beijing and Nanjing on Saturday. -BBC
On Sunday, hundreds of people were seen demonstrating in Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic began.
New isolation camp just dropped. https://t.co/tpvcaVynuu— J (@1000Steps) November 26, 2022
And of course, Taylor Lorenz is cheering China's zero-covid policy.
Lorenz just out here cheerleading China's welding people in their apartments lockdown zero covid policy and it's all good I guess. pic.twitter.com/cXLInJAEmP— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) November 27, 2022
These people would murder us if they thought they could get away with it. That sounds crazy and wacky, or it did until the last couple years. Tell me it’s false. https://t.co/oZ4ptWNKs3— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) November 27, 2022