The Chinese Communist Party, through its state propaganda arms, insisted on Monday that it would “rectify,” but not eliminate, its years-old Chinese coronavirus lockdown policies – which prompted a wave of protests over the weekend in the country’s largest cities.
Hundreds, if not potentially thousands, of Chinese citizens took to the streets in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and throughout the occupied East Turkistan on Saturday and Sunday demanding an end to “zero-Covid,” the Chinese government policy that requires extensive use of house arrest to contain citizens potentially exposed to the virus, the shipment of thousands to unsanitary and repressive quarantine camps, routine government testing, and the mass shutdown of businesses. Tensions had been stewing for months, creating a situation in which the NGO Freedom House observed in a report in November that protests had become a “daily” occurrence in the country, which had not seen significant protest activity at a nationwide scale for at least three decades.
“Not only is dissent in China frequent, it’s also widespread. Since June, people have protested in nearly every province and directly administered city,” Freedom House observed. “Moreover, even as authorities make every effort to prevent protestors from connecting, we found many instances where people manage to form decentralized movements that increase the impact of their dissent.”
While Chinese people had begun fighting back against lockdowns as early as March 2020, flipping over police cars and brawling with government agents, the frequency and brazenness of protests have dramatically increased in the past six months. Two incidents in particular – a single protester unfurling a banner condemning communist dictator Xi Jinping on Beijing’s Sitong Bridge during the Communist Party Congress in October and a massive block fire in Urumqi, East Turkistan, that is believed to have killed at least two dozen people – appear to have greatly intensified the anti-communist movement’s efforts in the country this weekend:
— 自由亚洲电台 (@RFA_Chinese) November 28, 2022
“Freedom! We want freedom!” People gather in under #SitongBridge in #Beijing where lone hero #PengLifa or #PengZaizhou protested and got arrested only over a month ago. See my show on that protest: https://t.co/i5FujLhX2f#ChinaProtests #WhitePaperRevolution pic.twitter.com/rW2HpVTWnn
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferzeng97) November 28, 2022
The Communist Party propaganda outlet Global Times cited government health officials on Monday to ensure that the Party would continue to implement its Chinese coronavirus “control protocols,” claiming that Beijing dispatched “working groups” to oversee local officials and blaming any human rights violations or unsavory situations on local officials. The Communist Party has used this method since blaming Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang for the initial outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus, which caused the pandemic; the Party has since switched tactics and blamed a U.S. Army laboratory in Maryland for the pandemic, citing no relevant evidence.
The regime, the Global Times claimed, “jointly dispatched working groups to rectify some problems that have emerged when the 20 optimized measures for combating [Chinese coronavirus] are being implemented.” The “20 optimized measures” are a series of reforms to the brutal lockdown strategy that, upon their debut, Beijing insisted were not meant to “loosen” lockdown or quarantine protocol, but merely make it more efficient.
Among the actions the “working groups” are allegedly helping local officials with executing are “transferring positive patients and testing groups and taking the first 24 hours as a primary opportunity to contain the outbreaks.”
Another government outlet, the Xinhua News Agency, reported on Beijing specifically on Monday, announcing that the city had “promised to improve anti-virus measures,” but not end them, soon after the protests. Xinhua highlighted an alleged ban on barricading people in residential communities – a particular point of disgust for protesters following riots in Guangzhou two weeks ago, where locked-in workers tore down barricades and brawled in the street with hazmat suit-wearing government workers.
The Global Times also noted new provisions in Beijing – home to the nation’s most powerful communist elite – allegedly banning government workers from blocking fire exits, an apparent response to anger over the Urumqi fire. Beijing had already been under less severe restrictions than anywhere else in the country, however, somehow avoiding a total lockdown for two years despite currently being touted as the city with the most severe ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Rather than locking down residents formally, Chinese officials had “reminded residents to reduce unnecessary outings and avoid going to high-risk areas and crowded places,” the Global Times noted. Most residents, prior to this weekend, had interpreted a totalitarian, violent regime “advising” them to stay home as a de facto lockdown.
The Global Times also claimed that some local governments had issued orders banning officials from welding people shut in their homes, an abusive practice that had not been implemented in any widespread manner since early 2020.
Chinese state outlets did appear to change their tone regarding lockdown protocol, indicating an easing of the most brutal practices but offering little in the way of concrete changes to the daily life of Chinese people under “dynamic zero-Covid,” as the regime refers to its policy. As recently as last Friday, Xinhua published an article insisting that the government was not planning any lifting of most “zero-Covid” protocols and insisting, too, that China would not adopt the policy of most of the rest of the world currently, which is to allow citizens to go about their lives with relative freedom.
Xinhua, instead, touted the 20 “optimizations” to “dynamic zero-Covid,” which did not eliminate the use of lockdowns, quarantine camps, or invasive testing.
“Based on scientific comprehension of preceding practices and the latest results of evidence-based research, such optimizations and adjustments are neither the relaxation of [Chinese coronavirus] restrictions nor by any means the let-it-go or ‘lying flat’ approach,” Xinhua insisted. “Lying flat” is the derisive term Chinese outlets use for allowing people to practice their civil rights during the pandemic.
“Instead, the refined measures aim to manage epidemic prevention and control tasks more scientifically and precisely by adapting to the current [Chinese coronavirus] situation and the characteristics of the virus variants,” the outlet continued.