China’s COVID-19 Lockdown Protests Flare across China and the World



Protesters in Beijing holding blank white pieces of paper

Junhyoung (Edward) Kim, Staff Writer

As 2022 is coming to a close, both the US and the world have encountered many events that are covering headlines in various news outlets. For instance, in sports, many fans are excited about the World Cup games, while in politics, the US midterm elections signaled a change in leadership and administration. However, behind many of these events that are receiving the spotlight, an important issue is hidden and covered. 

In the status quo, China is witnessing protests that are primarily led by students. According to Vox, the protests are the “the biggest threat to China’s ruling Communist Party since Tiananmen Square in 1989.” The protests are a way to show resistance to the Chinese ruling party and their policies. As the protests are gaining heat and momentum, primarily by students, the Chinese government has played an active role in trying to censor out material. 

These protests began in response to a rather unusual incident that took away the lives of at least 10 people: a fire at an apartment complex. The fire occurred in Xinjiang, a western region of China, more specifically, the capital, Urumqi. Many residents and Chinese citizens grew outraged after witnessing videos of the fire through leaked videos on social media. From many sources, protesters are blaming the zero COVID policy that was instilled by President Xi. In short, the policy has been in place for around three years, and as the name suggests, governments within China are implementing lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus. The Chinese government also utilized drones to have a surveillance system over their citizens to encourage mask usage. Ironically, many claim that the policy is the reasoning behind why the people trapped in the fire were unable to escape. The Washington Post found that “[the zero COVID policy] [has] also contributed to deaths unrelated to coronavirus infections.” For example, a nurse passed away after she was refused entry into her own hospital that was under strain, and a three-year-old passed away after COVID restrictions delayed treatment. Although the policy has been in place for a couple years, leaked videos and coverage about the fire created a rare sense of unity among the Chinese people. 

Even prior to the fire, residents under lockdown gathered to revolt against the harsh restrictions in Guangzhou, China. Many more protests were taken place by Chinese citizens to express their discontent. Notably in recent days, Chinese soccer fans are expressing their negative emotions toward this issue after viewing the large crowd in Qatar World Cup without a mask. CNN writes that an article in China stated, “None of the fans are seen wearing face masks, or told to submit proof of Covid test results. Are they not living on the same planet as us?” The article went viral before it was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities. 

Students and locals gather at Columbia University to protest China’s lockdown policies (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to the fire, many students and supporters for the cause have gathered not only in China, but also across the world, to protest. Protests and vigils, both large and small, were taken in place in London, Paris, Tokyo, and Sydney to name a few. Protests have also been taking place in many US universities such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia. After speaking with some college students who have participated in these protests, they claim that they are even potentially putting their lives and their families who are back in China at risk due to the high level of surveillance. Those who are currently found to be against the authorities have been, in extreme cases, physically abused and arrested. A BBC journalist was recently arrested by the Chinese police and was assaulted. 

People in China can be in trouble with the police for even just holding a blank piece of paper, as the paper symbolizes activism and suppression. Many student groups are promoting this movement called the A4 Revolution, and are encouraging students to post pictures of them holding A4 blank pieces of paper. The blank paper symbolizes the fact that people have a lot to say but the inability to do so because of government censorship. During these times, our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones not just to COVID but also due to oppression and restriction of rights and freedom.