China protests: Young people are driving the demonstrations

Last weekend in China, there was a new generation. Many took part in the first public demonstration of their lives.

They demanded that the zero-Covid policy, which has been in place for almost three years, be lifted from the streets.

Protesters in Shanghai were initially quiet. The protestors had gathered in Shanghai to remember the victims of an apartment fire that erupted in the western Xinjiang area. Many thought that Covid had stopped the fire from spreading.

They grieved under heavy police protection. In protest they held up empty papers and laid flowers. They remained silent.

Then, some shouted: “Freedom!” Freedom is what we want! Stop locking people down!”

The crowd got louder and more vocal as the night progressed. They chanted “Xi Jinping! Xi Jinping, step down!”

A participant from early 20s said that he had run to the streets after hearing about the people in the room.

He told BBC that he had seen many angry people online, but no one has ever taken to the streets to protest.

His camera was with him to capture what he considered historic. I see many people: the students, police officers, old folks, and foreigners. Although they may have different views, at least they are able to speak up.

It’s beautiful to be in this group. This will become a treasured memory.

One young lady standing at the edge of crowd described it as a beautiful, but delicate moment. She told BBC that she had never witnessed anything similar in her life in China.

It’s a great relief. We can finally get together and have a good time – we are able to share something that we’ve wanted for so long.

She said Zero Covid stole the greatest years of her life. Her generation lost their income, livelihoods and opportunities to travel and education. They were often locked up for several months and had been separated from their families, unable to travel or delayed life plans.

They were in purgatory, “angry and sad”

Similar appeals were made in many major cities throughout the country over that weekend. Students inspired by online demonstrations also gathered at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University.

Video of a young girl talking fast and fearfully into a loudspeaker went viral. Sometimes her voice cracks and she can’t stop crying. She is supported by the crowd: “Don’t be afraid!” Keep going! They say, “Go on!”

She mumbles, “If we are afraid of discrediting ourselves, then I believe our people will be disappointed in me.” It would be a regrettable decision for me to continue my studies at Tsinghua University.

Older observers will recall the protests, which were a sight they haven’t seen for decades, as well as the Tiananmen Square 1989 demonstrations, where students called for more freedom in China.

Some say that this generation is zealous because they don’t know how the protests ended, which was in a brutal crackdown.

Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch says that “the combination of youthful ideallism and fearlessness without burdening painful memories – young people are demanding their rights.”

Some argue this sells out the protesters. According to Wen-ti, a political scientist at Australia’s National University, their youth is a lie.

Their “tactical intelligence” has amazed him. He says that the young protesters are “the best educated generation China’s seen”.

They know their limits. He says that they are trying to push the boundaries without breaking them.

Protesters shouted in Shanghai for the removal of Xi. At almost all other rallies, protestors resisted the call for Xi’s removal.

Their symbol was blank paper, which is devoid any incriminating scrawls. They responded with sarcasm to police’s request to stop calling for zero Covid.

He says, “Just observe how they cover every possible ground to minimize any accusations the Chinese government could make against them.”

Protesters also listened out for voices that would subvert their message.

One man in Beijing warned about “foreign influence” and was ridiculed by other people who shouted “By foreign influences, do you mean Marx or Engels?” It is Stalin? Are you sure it’s Lenin?

Marxism is the guiding ideology of China’s Communist Party.

Beijingers pressed the question: “Was that foreign force who set off the flames in Xinjiang?” Did it turn the bus at Guizhou in Guizhou over by foreign forces?

“Were it foreign forces that brought everyone here tonight?” One man shouted to the crowd. The crowd roared back, “No!”

The majority of young Chinese were content with their prospects for the future before the pandemic. All that changed with Covid.

The young man in Shanghai with his camera said that he couldn’t travel the globe and could not see his family. According to him, he was worried about his mother in Guangzhou, which is a southern city. On Wednesday, most districts were freed from Covid restrictions by city officials.

I really wanted to meet her. He said that he hadn’t seen her in a while, had not touched her face or eaten dinner with her for a long time. I hope that this lockdown policy is released. “As soon as possible.”

Later that day, he was taken into custody by the police. The BBC later learned.

Many people who have spoken to the BBC and were captured online saying they wish for their country’s progress.

Crowds sang China’s national anthem at the protests – especially the swelling chorus that urges them to “Stand Up!” Get up “Stand up!” Stand up and defend your country.

According to Mr Sung, one way this generation is different from others is their strong patriotism. They grew up during the rise of China.

Many of them are “liberal nationists”, which he calls those who believe so strongly in the system and demand accountability for its failure.

He says, “Sentiment could switch quickly from being pro-government to being anti-establishment.”

However, there is a common desire for protestors to be legitimate and in compliance with the law.

After the Tsinghua Campus video’s speaker raised concerns that the protest might be taken by troublemakers the crowd shouted “No lawbreakers!” There are no lawbreakers!

The male voice of concern is heard saying, “If you lose control over this, then then we will have lost everything.”

We don’t know how to do this, but we will slowly learn.


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