Protests erupted in cities and on campuses across China this weekend as frustrated and outraged citizens took to the streets in a stunning wave of demonstrations against the government’s “zero covid” policy and the leaders enforcing it.
Residents in Shanghai, China’s most populous city, came together Saturday night and early Sunday, calling for the end of pandemic lockdowns and chanting, “We want freedom!” and “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock all of China!” according to witnesses at the event. In even more extraordinary scenes of public anger aimed at the government’s top leader, a group of protesters there chanted, “Xi Jinping, step down!” and “Communist Party, step down!”
“There were people everywhere,” said Chen, a 29-year-old Shanghai resident who arrived at the vigil around 2 a.m. Sunday. “At first people were yelling to lift the lockdown in Xinjiang, and then it became ‘Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party step down!’” he said, giving only his surname because of security concerns.
The immediate trigger for the demonstrations, which were also seen at universities in Beijing, Xi’an and Nanjing on Saturday, was a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in China’s far northwest on Thursday. Ten people, including three children, died after emergency fire services could not get close enough to an apartment building engulfed in flames. Residents blamed lockdown-related measures for hampering rescue efforts.
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