Anti-COVID measures contested across China, clashes in Shanghai

by Casey Hall, Josh Horwitz and Martin Quin Pollard

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Several hundred demonstrators clashed with police on Sunday evening in Shanghai as the protest movement against the drastic restrictions imposed on the Chinese population in the context of the fight against COVID-19 seems to have spread to many cities across the country three days after the deadly fire at a residential building in the Xinjiang region.

This wave of disobedience is unprecedented in China since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, with the “zero COVID” policy imposed by the Chinese leader arousing growing frustration among the population almost three years after the start of the pandemic.

“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government (…) I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t. Our policy to fight COVID-19 is a bet and it’s not based on science or reality,” said Shaun Xiao, a protester in Shanghai, China’s financial hub, whose economy could suffer from government-imposed lockdowns in every potential coronavirus hotspot. coronavirus responsible for the disease.

Protesters also took to the streets of Wuhan, where COVID-19 first appeared in late 2019 before spreading across the world, and Chengdu on Sunday. In Beijing, small groups held peaceful vigils. Students from many universities also demonstrated their anger over the weekend across the country.

The dissatisfaction of part of the Chinese population with the “zero COVID” policy has turned into protest in the streets following the death of 10 people Thursday evening in the fire of a residential building in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in western China.


The images of the disaster broadcast on social networks have fueled the idea that the containment measures in this city had hindered relief and contributed to this death toll of 10. During a hastily organized press conference on Saturday morning, Urumqi leaders dismissed that scenario, as many of the Xinjiang capital’s four million residents have been banned from leaving their homes since a hundred days, one of the longest confinements imposed in China since the start of the pandemic.

Police were deployed in large numbers on Sunday in Shanghai on Wulumuqi Avenue – another way to spell the name of Urumqi – where a candlelight vigil degenerated into a demonstration on Saturday.

“We are only demanding our basic human rights. We cannot leave our homes without being tested. It was the accident in Xinjiang that made people overwhelmed,” said a 26-year-old protester in Shanghai, refusing to give his name because of the risks associated with the situation.

“People here are not violent but the police stop them for no reason. They tried to grab me but people all around me held my arms so tight and pulled me back that I could escape.”

Hundreds of people gathered again in the same place on Sunday evening. Some brandished white sheets in protest.

During the night from Saturday to Sunday, some demonstrators not only demanded an end to the confinements but also chanted “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping”, according to witnesses and videos posted on social networks. .

Similar scenes took place in Chengdu, a metropolis in southwestern China, on Sunday, where, according to images posted on the internet, the crowd there also brandished white sheets and chanted: “We do not want leaders for life. We don’t want emperors.”

Xi Jinping was reappointed in October as head of the Chinese Communist Party after winning the removal of the term limit. The Chinese leader has also surrounded himself with a political office entirely composed of faithful.


In Wuhan, videos on social media showed hundreds of residents protesting in the streets, knocking down metal barriers and dismantling tents for testing.

Similar scenes appear to have taken place in several cities on Sunday, including Lanzhou, in the northwest of the country.

Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of these videos.

In Beijing, several dozen people took part in a peaceful rally against anti-COVID measures at the prestigious Tsinghua University, during which they sang the national anthem, again images show on social networks.

Two apparently spontaneous demonstrations also broke out on Sunday evening in the Chaoyang district.

In one of them, at least a hundred people held up white papers. In the other, the crowd echoed various slogans, including “We don’t want masks, we want freedom. We don’t want COVID tests, we want freedom.”

China has recorded significantly fewer infections and deaths from COVID-19 than most other countries relative to its population, but the daily number of infections in recent days has not been so high there since the start of the pandemic. pandemic. And while restrictions are lifted almost everywhere else in the world, it is increasing containment measures across its territory in accordance with its “zero COVID” policy.

(Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian, ​​Eduardo Baptista and Liz Lee in Beijing, Brenda Goh, Josh Horwitz, David Stanway, Casey Hall and Engen Tham in Shanghai and the editorial staff of Shanghai, written by Tony Munroe; French version Camille Raynaud, Kate Entringer and Bertrand Boucey)

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