(p. A1) BEIJING—Protests are erupting in major cities in China over President Xi Jinping’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, an unusual show of defiance in the country as the economic and social costs from snap lockdowns and other strict restrictions escalate.
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(p. A8) The protests followed demonstrations on Friday [Nov. 25, 2022] in Urumqi, capital of the remote region of Xinjiang, where a deadly fire enraged residents who had struggled with lockdowns of more than 100 days. Residents flooded social media with comments suggesting that Covid restrictions contributed to a delay in putting out the fire, in which officials said 10 people died.
In Beijing, hundreds of protesters marched on Sunday night. A large police presence pinned protesters near the Liangmahe river, a popular spot for family picnics by day that is close to many foreign embassies. “Freedom,” the protesters shouted in unison.
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Signs that unrest after the deadly fire in Urumqi was spreading beyond Xinjiang became apparent on Saturday [Nov. 26, 2022], when videos circulating on social media showed crowds gathering on a street in central Shanghai calling for a lifting of lockdowns. The videos were verified by Storyful, a social-media research company owned by News Corp, parent company of The Wall Street Journal.
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One middle-aged Shanghai resident said he stopped by on his way home and joined the crowd in singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Misérables” and the Chinese national anthem. A friend who grew up in Xinjiang began to cry, he said.
“[We in] Shanghai can relate to that, because we had gone through such a long lockdown,” he said, referring to more than two months of iron-fisted Covid controls imposed on the city earlier this year.
The mood intensified. Using expletives and call-and-response chanting, some protesters began to denounce both Mr. Xi and his Covid-control strategy. Another clip from the scene showed demonstrators standing across from lines of police.
The clip showed one man chanting, “The Communist Party.” Others responded, “Step down.”
“Xi Jinping,” the man shouted. “Step down,” others responded.
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On Chinese social-media, users raced against censors to spread images and news of the protests, along with expressions of solidarity. “Long live the people, may the dead rest in peace,” said a message that spread widely. Others posted an image of a blank white sheet of paper—a nod to censorship—with the words “I love you, China. I love you, young people.”
The protests continued Sunday [Nov. 27, 2022], with students gathering around noon on the campus of Tsinghua University, another elite school in Beijing. Some in the crowd carried sheets of paper that were either blank or had an exclamation mark inside a red circle—the symbol that indicates an online post has been deleted—according to witness video footage shared with the Journal. The students sang songs and chanted “Democracy and rule of law!”
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 28, 2022, and has the title “Chinese Protests Spread Over Government’s Covid Restrictions.” Where the versions differ, the quotes above follow the more detailed online version.)