China’s white paper protests
Protests have spread across China over the weekend, but if you’ve not been following the story, it might seem they’ve come from nowhere. Here’s what you need to know.
Mass protests are happening across China At the weekend, large crowds took to the streets in cities including Shanghai and the capital Beijing, demanding changes to the Chinese government’s harsh Covid rules.
They’re in response to China’s ‘zero-Covid’ policy While the rest of the world has returned to something like normal, in China, just a few detected cases can lead to buildings or cities being put into strict lockdowns. The aim is to eliminate Covid from the country entirely – and it means that China has some of the lowest Covid death rates in the world.
That means Covid lockdowns never really ended Shortages of supplies, relying on food deliveries, not being able to go to work – all the difficult parts of the Covid pandemic have stayed a part of life in China on-and-off for three years now, pushing people to breaking point. But in recent weeks, officials have tried to soften things – putting districts rather than whole cities into lockdown, for example.
Protesters blame lockdowns for deaths A fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, killed 10 people in a building had been under lockdown for weeks. Authorities insist residents were not locked in their homes and could get out – but it sparked a fierce reaction.
Now the protests are about more than Covid Some protesters have called for more freedom of speech, or even for President Xi Jinping to be removed – an incredible act of defiance in China. Speaking out like this is rare and risky, leading to arrests and harsh crackdowns.
Blank sheets of white A4 paper have become a symbol Protesters are holding them to symbolise the lack of freedom of speech – speaking out without explicitly saying anything, and a stand-in for all the things people cannot say. Some now refer to the protests as the “white paper revolution”.
Police have been arresting protesters BBC journalist Ed Lawrence, who was covering a protest in Shanghai on Sunday, was also arrested and detained by Chinese authorities. He was beaten and kicked by the police during his arrest, the BBC said, adding that he was held for several hours before being released.
And it is a huge test for China’s most powerful man Xi Jinping is one of the most powerful leaders China has had in decades. He has cracked down on dissent, and the two-term limit on presidency has been removed so that he could become president for a third time. But these protests are unlike anything seen in years – perhaps decades.