A week ago, demonstrators took to the streets of the northwestern city of Urumqi to protest against strict China. zero-covid policy. That night, there was a huge wave of publicity on Chinese social media, especially on the Super app WeChat. Users share videos of shows and songs like “Can You Hear the People Sing” from A professional bookBob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” and Patti Smith’s “Power To The People.”
In the days that followed, protests spread. A mostly masked man in Beijing’s Liangmaqiao district holds up empty papers and calls for an end to strict COVID policies. Across town at Tsinghua University, protesters held up posters of a physics formula known as Friedmann equation because his name sounds like “free man.” Similar demonstrations were carried out in cities and colleges across China in a wave of protest that has been compared to the 1989 student movement that ended in a bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
Unlike those earlier protests, the demonstrations that have rocked China in the past week have been linked and spread through smartphones and social media. The national government has tried to strike a balance between embracing technology we had limit the city’s power to use to protest or organize, building up broad powers of censorship and surveillance. But last weekend, the power of China’s digital population and their anger, courage, and anger seemed to break free from government control. It took days for Chinese authorities and police to crack down on protests on the Internet and on city streets. By then pictures and videos of the protests had spread around the world, and the Chinese had shown that they could maneuver around the Great Wall and other barriers.
A British national who has lived in Beijing for over 10 years said: “The quality of WeChat is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. “There seems to be a carelessness and excitement in the air as people become bolder and bolder with every post, each new person testing the boundaries of the kingdom and their own.” You’ll find posts unlike any you’ve ever seen on China’s tightly controlled Internet, like a picture of a Xinjiang government official captioned without the words “Fuck off.”
Chinese netizens have developed a sense of what censors will and will not allow, and many know how to circumvent some Internet controls. But as the protests spread, less and less WeChat users seem less concerned with the consequences of their posts, a tech worker in Guangzhou told Wired, speaking on an encrypted app. Like the other Chinese nationals mentioned, he asked not to be named because of the risk of government attention. More time planners use encryption tools like Telegram or sharing to Western platforms, like Instagram and Twitterto get the word out.
The anti-lockdown demonstrations began as unofficial vigils for the victims of a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. The city has come under the COVID lockdown restrictions for more than 100 days, which some observers believe prevented the victim tried to escape and slowed down emergency response. Most, if not all, of the victims are members of the Uyghur minority, which is subject to a campaign of forced assimilation who sent estimated 1 million to 2 million people to resettlement camps.
The tragedy comes as concerns with zero-COVID policies have already begun to spike. Violent conflicts has erupted between workers and security at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou that makes iPhones. Scott Kennedy, of the Center for Policy and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, DC, said that when he visited Beijing and Shanghai in September and October, it was clear that people were “fed up” with the measures. like a regular PCR test, scanning QR “Health Codes” to go anywhere, and a constant view of the new lock. Kennedy said: “I’m not surprised that things are cooked. The government in early November indicated some restrictions would be lifted soon, but the Urumqi fire and news that COVID cases are rising again, he said, “have pushed people to the edge.”