These protests have a huge impact. They are significant regardless of where they go.
China has seen greater protests in Hong Kong than any other country since 1989. However, nothing on the mainland has been as violent.
Although unrest is common in China, demonstrations are often small and localized and can be easily stopped.
China’s leadership will be concerned about the protests’ size, spread throughout the country and persistence.
Since the pro-democracy movements in the late 1980s, which culminated with the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party has not faced a similar threat.
This time, the spark was an apartment fire in Urumqi’s western City of Urumqi. It claimed at least 10 lives.
These protests, however, have been ongoing for many months.
Anger and resentment have been growing at the government for its zero-COVID policies. But there is more to the story.
Popular wisdom says that the Chinese Communist Party has had a deal with the Chinese people ever since the Tiananmen massacre.
We’ll make you more successful and keep society stable. You will allow us to run the country.
The Chinese consider stability and prosperity to be essential because their history has been filled with chaos, poverty, and upheaval since childhood. People have placed their faith in their government to ensure that the past is not repeated.
However, during lockdown, people began to question their government’s ability to govern.
People have been held hostage in their communities for months under the zero-COVID policy. They fear that the state’s brutality is killing them. In this instance, they were burned alive and locked up in Urumqi apartments.
Even worse, the economy is under lockdown and has stopped growing.
While the Chinese are aware that the rest of the world has moved on from COVID, they don’t. This is evident in the sight they see on television of World Cup crowds of thousands of people without masks. This is a sign that the compact between people and state is not as effective and we are now in unknown waters.
More unrest is almost certain.
President Xi Jinping has placed a lot of faith in China’s zero COVID policy.
His government, instead of trying to save lives by importing more powerful vaccines from outside the world – but losing face– has attempted to eradicate the virus wherever it appears using draconian social control.
It hasn’t worked, and China is now fighting outbreaks in an increasing number of cities. The virus will spread if people continue to protest the lockdowns.
China is not medically ready, however.
Professor Kerry Brown from King’s College London says: “They must quite quickly put into place emergency measures for health service to take some kind of spike in number that might need hospitalisation.”
For a quiescent population, tracking, tracing, and locking down might work, but it won’t for an angry citizenry that is losing faith in the authorities.
Prof Brown said that if you keep the current policies in place, you will see more protests. They could become more dangerous.”
The Chinese government is most concerned about a national-organised opposition, as it knows that this has brought down dynasties in the past.
The leadership of Falun Gong, a benign spiritual movement, invaded Zhongnanhai in Beijing in peaceful protest in the 1990s. They were terrified and used all the draconian measures necessary to stop it.
To prevent dissent and unrest from spreading, it has invested billions into an Orwellian surveillance system.
Now, it faces widespread unrest that spontaneously erupted. It will use every resource of its totalitarian government to suppress it. However, it faces its greatest challenge in over three decades as it attempts to do so.