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The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

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Protests in China Are Not about Zero-COVID; They Are About the Chinese Government

Shaina Taebi
Citizens in China have started to break down the ‘wall’ of censorship and political control the Chinese Communist Party has placed upon its citizens. Protests for the removal of Zero-Covid, and more importantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping, reveal a rising wave of young, political dissenters that will shape China’s future political sphere.

Protests surged in China following an Ürümqi apartment fire, which killed ten residents. The tragedy, which took place Nov. 24, is largely blamed on China’s faulty Zero-COVID policies, which may have contributed to the residents’ deaths, according to AP News

Zero-COVID is China’s method of COVID-19 control, which aims to maximize suppression of the virus through strict quarantine and daily testing, a large barrier to citizens’ everyday lives, according to Reuters

Video recordings of protests published in the New York Times have also circulated through Reddit and Twitter, showing Shanghai demonstrators calling out, “Long live the people!”, “May the dead rest in peace!” and “Chinese people, we need to be braver!” 

These protests spark the largest challenge to China’s authoritarian government, the Chinese Communist Party, in years. With harsh media censorship and strict regulations over citizens’ right to free speech and protest, the CCP has largely silenced all forms of government dissent. 

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Chinese citizens have been compliant with these policies over the years, with no large-scale protests since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, when Chinese authorities allegedly killed hundreds of citizens campaigning for social welfare and government transparency. 

While the protests may have been sparked by Zero-COVID, they have not solely arisen from forced quarantining—they are direct attacks on China’s history of shoddy policy and politics—a breaking point that may serve to upend the CCP’s strict control. The protests reveal a new generation of young, politically-aware dissenters who may be rising to challenge the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping’s rule. 

Instead of simply calling for the removal of the policy, young Chinese and expats all around the world have started to directly blame the Chinese government. Examples of this include protesters holding up blank signs to cautiously draw attention to their lack of free speech, while bolder protesters have directly called out Xi’s lack of fair governance, according to the New York Times. 

All this is especially monumental given the party’s history with prosecuting dissenting citizens, which includes jail time and hefty fines at the least. 

It is imperative that we, especially those in the Chinese-American community, denounce the actions of the CCP, as they are about far more than just the pandemic. Zero-COVID has greatly harmed the Chinese population, destroying businesses, people’s careers and basic livelihood, according to Wired

While the protests are largely an issue outside the United States, they have had indelible impacts on the Chinese-American community back home. Junior Kevin Ying elaborates on the importance of the protests to the Chinese-American diaspora.

“With civil unrest in China, there has been a new wave of disassociating the party from the country, and the government has been trying very hard to link the two together to say that you can’t really have China without the party,” Ying said. “I think that it’s finally kind of an awakening where they’re able to disassociate the two, and I think it’s going to have large impacts on the Chinese-American community.”

The protests in China have shown the noncompliance of Chinese citizens and that they are not simply subject to autocratic rule. The correlation between Chinese culture and politics has mystified the actual meaning of what it means to be Chinese, and these events have shown defiance of decade-long norms. 

In the short term, it is unlikely China will change to better represent the people’s desires. However, recent events reveal potential changes for larger democracies and the growth of a more autonomous population. 

This story was originally published on Portola Pilot on January 5, 2023.