Debate of the Week:Will the protests succeed?
In THE NEWS: The people of China have been worn down by Covid-19 restrictions, censorship and economic woes. Now they want to take back control of their own lives.
“We want to be citizens, not slaves.” That is the rallying cry of thousands of Chinese protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days.
Some have openly called for the government, and China’s president Xi Jinping, to resign. Others hold up blank pieces of paper symbolising their inability to speak.
Meanwhile, Chinese social media, usually tightly controlled, has burst free of censorship to relay news and pictures of the protests.
Experts say this is the greatest challenge the Chinese government has faced since 1989, when protests in Tiananmen Square were brutally repressed.
The protests have been sudden, but discontent has been building for some time. China’s economy has gotten weaker. Many people’s lives are getting worse.
The country’s restrictive “Zero Covid” policy, however, has done more than anything else to stir up discontent.
At first, people in China were supportive of the policy. It saved them from the mass deaths that western countries endured between 2020 and 2021.
But after almost three years of constant testing, sudden lockdowns, and restrictions on movement, many have been wondering when it will finally end.
Many hoped Xi Jinping would announce a timetable for returning to normality at the 20th party congress last month. But instead he insisted that Zero Covid must continue.
Cases have recently been rising in China, causing the government to strengthen its measures even further.
So the country was already a powder keg when a fire broke out in a block of flats in the town of Urumqi. Ten people died in the blaze. Locals blame the lockdown policy that prevented them from leaving their homes.
It was a story that horrified people across China. Everyone knows the same thing could happen to them. That is what has brought them out on to the streets.
Will the protests succeed?
There is simply too much popular rage for the government to handle. If people’s lives are already unbearable, there is little more it can do to control them. It will have to back down, or it will be brought down.
China has the world’s most efficient security state, and Covid-19 has given it still more tools of surveillance and control. It will quickly stamp out these protests.
The government will offer some concessions on Zero Covid. Then the death rate will begin to rise, and it will use this as proof that the policy was necessary and reimpose the restrictions.
Xi Jinping-The president of China. Tiananmen Square-A huge open space in the middle of Beijing. It is known for a large-scale student protest that took place there in 1989 before being brutally crushed by China’s communist rulers. Urumqi-The capital of the Xinjiang region in the northwest of China.