A series of protests against COVID-19 lockdowns began in mainland China in November 2022. he protests began in response to measures taken by the Chinese government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country, including implementing a zero-COVID policy. Discontent towards the policy has grown since the beginning of the pandemic, which confined many people to their homes without work and left some unable to purchase or receive daily necessities.
Over the weekend, thousands in China took to the streets demanding an end to Covid lockdowns – with some even making rare calls for President Xi Jinping to stand down.
But on Monday, planned protests in Beijing did not happen after officers surrounded the assembly point. In Shanghai, large barriers were erected along the main protest route and police made several arrests.
The demonstrations began after a fire in a high-rise block in Urumqi, western China, killed 10 people on Thursday. Many Chinese believe Covid restrictions contributed to the deaths, although the authorities deny this.
China has moved quickly to suppress demonstrations that erupted across the country against the governmentâ€™s zero-Covid policy on the weekend, deploying police forces at key protest sites and tightening online censorship.
On Tuesday, while defending the policy, top health officials appeared to acknowledge its impact and pledged to â€œreduce inconvenienceâ€ to the public by lifting lockdowns â€œas quickly as possibleâ€ following outbreaks.
However, it may not be enough to appease the protesters, who took to the streets of several major cities and university campuses to demand an end to the countryâ€™s increasingly costly lockdowns.
So far, CNN has verified 23 demonstrations that took place across 17 Chinese cities â€“ including the capital Beijing and financial center Shanghai.
In Shanghai on Saturday, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the Xinjiang city, to mourn the fire victims. Many held up blank sheets of white paper â€“ a symbolic protest against censorship â€“ and chanted, â€œNeed human rights, need freedom.â€
Public protest is exceedingly rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society and built a high-tech surveillance state.
While protests do occur in China, they rarely happen on this scale, nor take such direct aim at the central government and the nationâ€™s leader, said Maria Repnikova, an associate professor at Georgia State University who studies Chinese politics and media.
â€œThis is a different type of protest from the more localized protests we have seen recurring over the past two decades that tend to focus their claims and demands on local officials and on very targeted societal and economic issues,â€ she said. Instead, this time the protests have expanded to include â€œthe sharper expression of political grievances alongside with concerns about Covid-19 lockdowns.â€
Protests have emerged across China in recent days amid rising public frustration at the governmentâ€™s zero-COVID strategy, which has led to repeated lockdowns and severe restrictions on daily life.
Demonstrations and vigils have taken place in many cities, including the capital, Beijing, and the countryâ€™s biggest city and financial centre Shanghai.
Protests taking place across so many cities and coalesced around a single issue are unusual and come only a few weeks after President Xi Jinping was confirmed for a third term in office.
Some of the protesters in Shanghai have shouted slogans calling for him to go.
Meanwhile, the authorities announced on Monday that daily coronavirus cases across China had reached more than 40,000, a new record.
â€œIt is definitely unusual that you have so many different cities all across China demonstrating right now,â€ Moritz Rudolf, a fellow at Yale Law Schoolâ€™s Paul Tsai China Center, told Al Jazeera. â€œYou have students who are protesting, workers who are protesting and this is quite unusual to see at this point in time.â€