EIt’s only been a week since in China Thousands took to the streets against the zero Covid policy. Since then, hardly a day has gone by without new easing of the corona measures being announced. In Urumqi, where the protests began, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities are to be reopened this Monday after more than three months.
In Beijing, there are increasing cases where infected people are allowed to isolate themselves at home instead of being forced into hospitals or quarantine centers. In many cities, the use of local public transport is now permitted again without a negative test. In Guangzhou, only certain professional groups should be tested regularly.
It’s small steps that have raised great expectations. In the meantime, displeasure is growing again that the easing does not go far enough.
With a mixture of concessions and intimidation, the Chinese leadership initially managed to prevent further large-scale demonstrations after the protest weekend at the end of November. But the situation remains unclear. On Sunday, many Beijingers expressed their disappointment at the local government’s announcements. The corona test requirement was not abolished, as some had hoped, nor was a right to home quarantine established. In Beijing’s embassy district, where hundreds took to the streets a week ago against the zero-Covid policy, the police showed a massive presence over the weekend. Police cars with flashing blue lights were stationed at every street crossing.
The spirit of protest has now spread from the streets to the residential areas. “I know from at least three friends that they fought successfully in their locked blocks of flats to have them reopened,” says Meiling. Last Sunday’s rally encouraged people to demand their rights. Until now, they would have believed that the power that controls them is omnipotent. “But then you realize that it is fragile.” At the same time, Meiling emphasizes that most of the demonstrators are only concerned with the zero-Covid policy, which has destroyed many livelihoods. “If it ends, that’s it with the protests,” she says. That in Shanghai some call for the resignation of state and party leaders Xi Jinping demanded, she considers “too much”. There were also isolated calls like this in Beijing, but they were deliberately drowned out by others.
Suddenly Corona is compared to the flu
Ren Zhen, another protester, talks about what the protests have changed for her. “For the first time in 29 years, I feel connected to my country,” she says. “I wasn’t aware of how many people share my values.” Above all, such sentences show how effectively the state has destroyed every form of civil society cohesion in recent years. References to the democracy movement of 1989 are now being made in many conversations. Not because they compare to the weekend of protests, but because since then (apart from the spiritual Falun Gong movement in the 1990s) thousands have not taken to the streets across the country for a common cause.
Meiling, for example, reports that many Beijing residents prevented their teenage children from going to the demonstration a week ago on Sunday because they knew where this could lead. This is remarkable because it is often claimed that China’s youth have no idea what happened back then.