BEIJING — Rare protests broke out across China over the weekend as groups of people vented their frustration over the zero-Covid policy.
The unrest came as infections surged, prompting more local Covid controls, while a central government policy change earlier this month had raised hopes of a gradual easing. Nearly three years of controls have dragged down the economy. Youth unemployment has neared 20%.
People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, ran a front page op-ed Monday on the need to make Covid controls more targeted and effective, while removing those that should be removed.
In Beijing, many apartment communities successfully convinced local management they had no legal basis for a lockdown. That came after more and more compounds in the capital city on Friday had abruptly forbade residents from leaving.
On Sunday, municipal authorities said temporary controls on movement should not last more than 24 hours.
Over the last three days, students staged protests at many universities, while people took to the streets in parts of Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Lanzhou, among other cities, according to videos widely shared on social media. The videos could not all be independently verified.
Demonstrations initially started in Urumqi, Xinjiang, on Friday after a building fire killed 10 people the prior day — in an area that had been locked down for months. The narrative on social media centered on how Covid controls prevented residents and rescue workers from saving lives.
While it’s not clear what exactly caused the deaths, local authorities subsequently declared the Covid risk had subsided, and began relaxing controls.
In Shanghai on Saturday, a vigil for the Urumqi deaths turned into a protest against Covid and the ruling Communist Party of China. Some unverified videos also showed calls for President Xi Jinping to step down.
Videos on social media showed police arresting some protesters.
Many of the demonstrators have held up blank sheets of white paper. Some have sung the national anthem and “The Internationale,” a socialist song associated with the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Notably, social media also showed protesters at the prestigious Tsinghua University on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear whether the protests reached a meaningful scale in a country of 1.4 billion people, or whether a wide demographic participated.