Dissent in an authoritarian regime: China’s COVID-19 protests

Muyao Guan, Reporter

China’s “zero-COVID” policy continues two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, after many countries have reopened and COVID has become mostly a thing of the past. 

   However, the Chinese government continues to enforce widespread lockdowns, quarantines, and contact tracing despite the economic drawbacks and perceived lack of benefit. Some people have reportedly been chained in their homes.

   The protests, which started in late November of 2022, began with a fire. Protests erupted after the zero-COVID policies exacerbated the fatalities of a building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Ten people were killed because they were allegedly unable to leave their homes due to a COVID lockdown that had been in place for months. 

   The protests have colloquially been called the “White Paper protests,” referring to how protesters would hold up pieces of white paper to symbolize the censorship and mourning. 

   The protestors have called for the end of zero-COVID policies, increased freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the resignation of Chinese president and head of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping, and the end of communist one-party rule.

   Chinese authorities have cracked down on the use of social media and the internet to communicate information about the protests. Videos of Chinese police searching through passerbys’ phones at random for any connection to protestors have circulated the internet. Humor, metaphor, and homophones have been used in an attempt to circumvent censorship in an ever-increasing game of cat-and-mouse.

   The protests have been called the biggest protests since the Tiananmen protests in the 1980s, which ended in the Tiananmen Square Massacre of hundreds of mostly college-aged protestors to the Chinese military.

   The future of the protests remains uncertain. The world is watching and waiting to see what happens next.