Home / Opinion / Views /  Mint Explainer: How China protests spread and where they are leading

China has been rocked by protests as dissatisfaction mounts over the ruling Communist Party's "Zero-COVID" strategy. Protests have erupted in major Chinese cities as the CCP reckons with this public, and therefore dangerous, expression of discontent against its rule.

China has struggled under the weight of the "Zero COVID" strategy since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Under this strategy, Beijing has looked to stamp out outbreaks of the virus through strict lockdowns, travel curbs and isolation of infected areas.

The strategy was not without its problems. Major cities struggled with food and medicine shortages. Families were separated and migrant labourers, who are among the most vulnerable groups in China, suffered enormously. Lockdowns in major Chinese cities, which contributed a large part of GDP, also caused the country's economic slowdown.

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China's ruling Communist Party was able to stave off massive discontent by pointing to the low death count in China relative to Western countries. However, the Omicron variant, which spreads faster than other strains, has challenged this strategy. Repeated lockdowns have frustrated citizens, disrupted normal life and have come with serious economic repercussions as the locked-down regions are highly productive.

The current protests were touched off by an apartment block fire in China's Western region of Urumqi in which nine people were killed. Disgruntled residents claimed that efforts by residents to leave the building were hindered by covid restrictions. Shortly afterward, videos of residents protesting against the restrictions and clashing with local authorities went viral on social media.

While China's censors have been quick to clamp down on online discontent, sympathy for the protestors has been widespread. This was made worse by the latest covid case numbers which indicate that China is clocking its highest-ever levels of daily cases since the pandemic began.

Protests quickly spread to other parts of the country. Citizens in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Chengdu among others stepped out onto the streets clutching blank pieces of paper. It is a pointed response to the government's frenetic efforts to censor criticism.

In a worrying sign for President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, protestors shouted slogans calling for the end of his and the CCP's rule over China. This marks a sharp contrast from earlier limited protests against specific policies or official corruption that have been allowed in China.

While the protestors are unlikely to succeed in any effort to bring down the powerful CCP, expressions of public anger will send alarm bells ringing among the top leadership of the party. China had recently loosened some of its strictest restrictions as the country began to move towards something resembling normalcy.

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