An unidentified individual called for the removal of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and an end to China’s zero-COVID policy during a rare one-man protest in Beijing on Friday.
What did the protest look like? The protester hung two large banners off the side of Sitong Bridge in a northern area of Beijing with hand-written messages in Chinese characters. Billows of smoke also rose from the bridge throughout the protest — some reports believe the protester was burning tires. The protest was quickly taken down by police, according to The Guardian.
- Per The Washington Post, the first banner said, “We want to eat, not do coronavirus tests; reform, not the Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not enslaved people.”
- The second banner said, “remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.”
- According to the BBC, one person has been arrested for a connection to the protest, although there are no official reports of any arrest being made.
Why is this protest significant? The night of the protest appears to have been selected deliberately — it was the day before China’s Communist Party congress, during which Xi is expected to be reinstated for a third term as China’s leader. This decision would make Xi China’s most powerful leader in decades — most leaders only last two terms.
- China’s strict zero-COVID policy has led to much frustration in Chinese cities. The country’s COVID-19 stance has led to major issues in the economy, housing market and led to frequent lockdowns.
- Protests in China, especially ones that directly call out Xi’s name, are difficult to pull off and therefore rare. Xi’s focus on maintaining social stability and national security have made it challenging for Chinese activists to publicly speak out.
What is the Chinese response? The protester received immediate online praise for his rebellious act. Supporters spoke out, calling the individual a “hero” and “tank man” — a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the BBC reports.
- China quickly began to censor online evidence of the protest through its strict censoring systems. Words or phrases with any association to the protest have been removed from the internet.
- However hard China tried to evaporate this protest, it is still remembered. The hashtag “I saw it” was trending on Twitter.
- Media outlets in China have not mentioned the protest.