Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

A New Spring of Nations: the Anti-Lockdown Protests in China

Massive protests are happening in China in response the zero-Covid policies in the country. Discontent arose after months of economic and social consequences due to these policies.

Dec 12, 2022

On Nov. 28, after a fire in the Xinjiang city Urumqi took the lives of 10 people, the citizens of the town flooded the streets in an unexpected mass protest. The tragedy was avoidable, but the strict lockdown measures and zero-Covid policies all over China prevented the Urumqi fire brigades from reaching the site on time.
In the subsequent days, protests in over 17 cities have been confirmed by CNN and BBC, reporting an unprecedented number of supporters. In the capital Beijing alone, six protests have already taken place. Photos from the protests show people carrying blank sheets of paper as a symbol of the censorship the government maintains over media and people’s voices.
The zero-Covid policy in China has imposed “rampant lockdowns ranging from buildings to entire counties” over the year, with the regulations tending to strengthen than to lessen over time, as in other countries around the world. Several tragic cases have been linked to the strict lockdown measures, but the Urumqi fire was the last straw for the people of China, whose patience has been steadily dwindling, especially because of the government's assurances that restrictions would be lifted in stages that never came about. Additionally, the unwavering lockdown measures have crippled the Chinese economy and many have either lost their jobs or have been paid little to no wages in months. The financial hardships of many people across China add on to their demands for more flexible anti-pandemic measures. The Chinese government remains constant in its efforts to protect the elderly, as inferred from a statement made by an official from the Chinese National Health Commission.
The protests in China of this scale are seen as “exceedingly rare”, especially with the Chinese government’s strengthened surveillance policies, some of which also related to the zero-Covid measures. In this regard, the current movement has unprecedented coverage by local participants in the movement. The New York Times revealed that the sheer amount of videos and photos shared on international social media has created a breach of the big silence. Recordings of the protests have been shared predominantly on Twitter, WeChat and TikTok and reveal the harsh measures taken by the Chinese law enforcement while detaining protesters. These instances of violence triggered international media coverage and drew more attention to the growing protest movement. In addition to criticisms against the alleged practices of the Chinese police, reporters point out the historical significance of the chants the protesters sing, most prominently The Internationale which is a socialist call-to-action anthem the Chinese people last sung in protest during the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.
Actions in solidarity with the people of China have also taken place around the globe. Demonstrations and vigils have been held in front of the Chinese Embassies in the U.K, the U.S.A, Canada, Malaysia, and Australia.
This story continues to unfold, and as more verified accounts of protests around China emerge, the world is waiting on international leaders’ response.
Yana Peeva is Deputy Columns Editor. Email her at
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