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(Source: ChinaFile)

Protests in China With Pan-Ethnic Aspects

The recent protests in China, the largest since the Tiananmen protests of 1989, was exhaustively covered in the international media (in stark contrast to the absolute silence by authorities in China and its media outlets). Here are excerpts from two significant commentaries and analysis from ChinaFile (a project of Asia Society) and the Wall Street Journal.

The piece posted in ChinaFile are comments and perspectives from different contributors:

One macro-level cause is “the economy has deteriorated severely under the weight of lockdowns. Youth unemployment now hovers near 20 percent. Second, after nearly three years of periodic lockdowns, many people’s patience with being physically constrained may simply have run out. Third, several episodes of local government mismanagement, corruption, and abuse of power likely eroded public trust in the state. Beyond these background issues, the most immediate cause of these late November protests seems to be a lack of consistency in the government’s post-20th Party Congress political signaling.”

One contributor opines “what the protests have also revealed is that information travels in China, even in conditions of such extreme censorship. That some of the most arresting scenes have come from Urumchi Road in Shanghai tells us that the fire in Urumchi has been seen by the people of Shanghai” while another is of the view that “the incompetence of Xi’s attempts to manage the social and economic impacts of his anti-COVID policies has been exposed to a greater degree than previously, and the ability of the Party—whether in the grasp of Xi or not—to govern the country is being questioned more seriously in both China and abroad than perhaps at any time since 1989.” One contributor emphasizes the plight of the workers and states “the current round of explosive collective anger, we must recall, began with the large-scale Foxconn worker unrest, where conditions of labor are normally abysmal and, in the recently-implemented “closed loop” system, are now intolerable.”

“The anti-zero-COVID protests spreading across China are a remarkable departure from protests in China over the past three decades. Ever since the 1989 crackdown, most if not all protests have been restricted to local demands and have targeted local officials. Slogans like “Xi Jinping, step down!” “Communist Party, step down!” heard, echoed, and recorded in many protests in recent days represent extraordinary fearlessness,” says another contributor.

Teng Biao is of the view that “abandoning the zero-COVID policy will on the one hand harm Xi Jinping’s legitimacy, and with it the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and on the other hand will motivate the protestors. When protests work, people organize more. But the unreasonable policy has and will immensely hurt China’s economy, which undergirds the CCP’s political stability. Xi will not easily give up the zero-COVID policy for another important reason: he and the Party elites have found the coronavirus provides a perfect pretext for putting everyone under stricter control.”

James Milward touches on the pan-ethnic aspects of the protests. The connection to Xinjiang, where the lockdown has continued longer but with less attention than anywhere else, is one of the most extraordinary things about the current protests…they are also pan-ethnic, and that too is rare. The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to erase “Urumchi” from Shanghai geography just as it has tried to erase so much Uyghur culture from Xinjiang. This is a symbolic connection that the authorities want to sever: Solidarity between Han and Uyghur is frightening for the Party.”

The Wall Street Journal in a lengthy piece entitled China’s Covid Protests Began With an Apartment Fire in a Remote Region and published on December 1, 2022 also touches on the inter and pan ethnic dimensions of the protests.

“That same night, dozens of people in Shanghai gathered for a vigil with flowers and candles near a street named after Urumqi. Passersby joined in, and the crowd grew into the hundreds. Just past midnight, some demonstrators began chanting for Mr. Xi to step down.”

“Similar protests emerged in half a dozen Chinese cities and more than a dozen university campuses in the following days. In several instances, demonstrators chanted “We are all Xinjiang people.” Others called for democracy and free speech.”

“Police have targeted protest participants by using some of the surveillance techniques honed in Xinjiang to target Uyghurs. In chat rooms used to organize demonstrations, protesters have reported police scanning the smartphones of pedestrians for overseas apps such as Twitter and Telegram, a common experience on the streets of Urumqi.”

“On Tuesday, Chinese-Australian activist and cartoonist Badiucao, who goes by one name, reposted a widely shared video of police on the Shanghai subway checking the phones of passengers on Twitter. He appended a single phrase: “Xinjiang-ization.”