In central China, students chanted for more transparency about Covid rules, while avoiding bold slogans. infuriate the communist party a week before. In Shanghai, residents have successfully negotiated with local authorities to prevent a blockade of their neighborhood. And despite pressure from officials, a group of volunteer lawyers across China, committed to defending citizens’ right to voice, received anxious calls from protesters.
The recent wave of protests that swept through China was fueled by frustration over measures to curb the pandemic, but unrest has also sometimes led to calls for China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to step down. office. Since then, police have stepped in to prevent the outbreak from returning, and mass protests have subsided. After that, a wave of gentle protests against the government continued, showing that the large demonstrations encouraged a small but significant number of people, including students, professionals and workers. blue neck.
No local action is a major challenge for Mr. Xi and the Communist Party. But they suggest that people are less afraid to challenge authority, albeit in more tactical and measured ways. They often invoke China’s own legal and policy commitments, an approach that is less likely to infuriate Communist Party leaders.
“There were people shouting my own demands, and I am extremely grateful — grateful that they were able to speak up for me,” said Wang Shengsheng, a lawyer in Zhengzhou, central China. . Ms. Wang helped compile a list of more than a dozen lawyers who are available to give free phone consultations to people in Shanghai and elsewhere worried about consequences of participating in prayers and demonstrations.
“I am sure that the number of people expressing their views this time, especially young people, will shape some policy changes later on,” she said. “I am sure that decision makers are not a monolith.”
In late November, dozens of protests broke out across China, sparked by Outrage over deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region in the west. The result is the most daring and most widely protested in China since the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
The Urumqi government has firmly denied widespread rumors that the residents who died in the fire – 10 according to official numbers – were trapped in their apartments due to Covid restrictions. But many Chinese were unconvinced and grief turned into greater anger at the widespread lockdown, virus testing and travel restrictions. At rallies in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, some protesters called on Xi and the Communist Party to give up power.
Since then, the Chinese government has taken a two-pronged approach: detaining some protesters and warning those intending to protest, and letting local authorities drop some rules of Covid made people angry. Mr. Xi has not spoken publicly about the protests, and it is not clear how expressions of dissent influence his decision to adjust policy. But many Chinese seem to believe that nationwide defiance plays a big role. Now they can try to maintain the pressure in smaller ways.
“I think what’s going to happen is that people will coordinate, it will be low-level, it will seem personalized and spontaneous, but there will be learning,” said Mary Gallagher, a professor at the University of Michigan. ask and discuss behind the scenes”. political research and social change in China.
Understanding the protests in China
“That’s what you need to do in an environment of political repression,” she said. “It will really put pressure on local authorities to not blockade.”
Despite China’s massive authoritarian government, local protests are not uncommon. Before Covid, they often focused on government land grabs, pollution outbreaks and wage arrears. Since the pandemic, the explosion of discontent has continued. But this new pattern of local instability will test Mr. Xi’s government at a particularly sensitive time as China seeks to relax Covid restrictions while trying to avoid an uncontrolled increase in cases. infection.
Hundreds of students at Wuhan University, in the city where the pandemic first broke out in late 2019, gathered on a recent rainy evening to call for changes to Covid’s policies, according to reports. a video has been verified by The New York Times. “An open process, transparent information,” they chanted while holding umbrellas over their heads.
That relatively light slogan seems to be a deliberate move. A student at the university said that classmates were unhappy about the university’s plan to restore face-to-face instruction, which upset their plans to go home after months of living under restrictions. their regime. The student, who asked to be identified only with his surname, Wu, for fear of being affected, said he did not attend the protest but had watched videos shared by classmates. He noted that none of the protesters had organized white piece of paperwhich has become a symbol of government defiance.
Mr. Wu said the school had agreed, allowing students to return home and choose between online and in-person classes.
While some cities in China have begun to relax lockdown restrictions, not all local officials have followed suit. They remain under heavy pressure to contain the outbreak, even as many senior leaders want to show sympathy for the public’s impatience.
In an affluent district of Shanghai on Sunday afternoon, security teams blocked the entrance to an apartment complex after a local commission ordered a lockdown when a Covid-19 case was detected in a building.
Angry residents soon confronted the guards, challenging the closure as illegal. “You have no right!” a woman is seen screaming many times in one video posted on Twitter. A few hours later, the police arrived and assisted the residents. A neighborhood committee employee for the apartment complex told The New York Times that the lockdown was lifted “after engagement and coordination.”
In Wuhan over the weekend, residents of a neighborhood solved their own problems, taking to the streets after breaking down barriers that kept them locked down, as seen in a video posted on Twitter.
With so much at stake in participating in protests, Chinese residents are using an older tactic: quoting central leaders to push back against local officials. For centuries, disgruntled people have grabbed central government edicts to make their argument, often calling out the idea — done sincerely or as a tactic — that a Well-intentioned rulers in Beijing have been misled by corrupt or disloyal officials.
“This is the idea that you can use the words of the central government to fight local abuses of power,” says Professor Gallagher. “And it protects you, because the central government is supposed to be benevolent.”
The Chinese are invoking the law to negotiate and roll back longstanding pandemic restrictions. In areas where the lockdown could not be eased, residents pointed to the government’s move in early November to push local governments to take a more targeted approach to Covid-19 control.
Local confrontations in Shanghai and Wuhan show the impatience of lockdown residents, who are more worried about paying mortgages, reviving bankrupt businesses and bringing in children I go back to normal school.
“We want to lift the blockade, our children need to go to school,” shouted residents of an apartment complex in Wuxi, eastern China, as they protested the blockade of their apartment block. . a video posted on Twitter shows. “We need to earn money to support our family. We want to eat.”
Members of the legal community have also stepped up to help raise awareness among residents of their rights. As authorities mobilized to arrest protesters and search people’s phones in recent days, often for no apparent reason, legal advice has gone viral on the Chinese internet. One such article outlined the rights of citizens in the event of a police request to search their phones.
In that postThe author of a Shanghai law firm, cited the Chinese Constitution and concluded: “Arbitrarily checking citizens’ mobile phone content is a serious violation of citizens’ privacy rights and abuses. public power”.
However, some have spoken out that they continue to face greater pressure. Ms. Wang, 37, an attorney who helped coordinate advice for worried protesters as well as their friends and family, said she had received calls from local officials.
She said she decided to help the protesters and their families after seeing images circulating on Chinese social media of a memorial ceremony for those killed at Urumqi in Shanghai. She said she has received several dozen calls, including from people who have been detained and questioned and who want to know their rights.
Chinese authorities over the past decade have tried to silence human rights lawyers by revoking their law licenses or by detaining and imprisoning them. But Ms. Wang said she felt no reason to worry.
“In my opinion, I’m just providing a little bit of legal advice” to protesters, she said.
“How is it that if some people believe they are wrong, I am also wrong simply by giving them legal advice?” she added. “That basically goes against the idea of the rule of law.”