Protesters against Covid restrictions hold blank sheets of paper during a protest in Beijing in the early hours of Monday, November 28.
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BEIJING — Rare protests erupted across China this weekend as groups of people expressed frustration at the zero-Covid policy.
The turmoil came as infections rose, leading to more local Covid controls, while a central government policy change earlier this month had raised hopes of a gradual easing. Nearly three years of controls have dragged the economy down. Youth unemployment is approaching 20%.
People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, ran a front-page op-ed on Monday about the need to make Covid controls more targeted and effective while removing those that should be removed.
In Beijing, many apartment communities managed to convince local management that they had no legal basis for a lockdown. That came after more and more neighborhoods in the capital abruptly banned residents from leaving on Friday.
On Sunday, municipal authorities said temporary motion controls should not last more than 24 hours.
Over the past three days, students at many universities have protested, while people have taken to the streets in parts of Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Lanzhou, among others, according to videos widely shared on social media. Not all of the videos could be independently verified.
The demonstrations initially began on Friday in Urumqi, Xinjiang, after a building fire killed 10 people the previous day — in an area that had been under lockdown for months. The social media story was about how Covid controls prevented residents and rescuers from saving lives.
While it is not clear what exactly caused the deaths, local authorities subsequently stated that the Covid risk had decreased and began to relax controls.
In Shanghai on Saturday, a vigil for the Urumqi deaths turned into a protest against Covid and China’s ruling Communist Party. Some unverified videos also showed calls for President Xi Jinping to resign.
Videos posted on social media showed police arresting some protesters.
Many of the protesters have held up blank sheets of white paper. Some have sung the national anthem and “The Internationale,” a socialist song related to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
In particular, social media also showed protesters at the prestigious Tsinghua University on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear whether the protests reached a meaningful size in a country of 1.4 billion people, or whether a broad demographic took part.