Harsh coronavirus controls have prompted an extraordinary outpouring of discontent across the country
The extraordinary outbreak of unrest that spread through China at the weekend is of a kind that has not been seen for decades. Protests are not uncommon, given the limited means for people to express their views, but are usually local incidents based on specific grievances. While there have been larger individual protests in the recent past, these have rapidly sprung up across major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu, and now Hong Kong. They have taken place in prestigious universities too.
They challenge a zero-Covid policy that comes from the very top. And though many protesters are cautious or silent – holding up blank sheets of paper to express their dissent – some have called for human rights, press freedom and even the departure of Xi Jinping and the Communist party, only weeks after Mr Xi embarked upon a norm-breaking third term and thus indefinite leadership. Such calls were an incredible act of defiance given the country’s increasingly tight political control.