For the past few days, news in China has been on the front page of our media. And for good reason: the uprising taking place in this country, subject to censorship and under the authority of a dictator, is something unprecedented. What’s going on ? Why are the people rising up? What are their demands? What position is the government taking? We will try to answer you!
1. Protests are linked to health restrictions
It must be said that if for us, the time of confinements and curfews is only a bitter memory, in China, it is still a reality. For almost 3 years, the country has been exercising a drastic “zero Covid” policy. The inhabitants are still subject to severe health restrictions: strict confinement at the slightest positive case, daily PCR tests, constant wearing of masks,… 6 million people are currently confined there, for example.
2. The revolts started several weeks ago
It has even been several months since demonstrations broke out here and there, in different sectors and cities of the country, against these restrictions deemed too severe. These were localized revolts that were quickly suppressed.
3. … But it was on November 24, 2022 that tensions exploded
On November 24, Urumqi, capital of the Uyghur region of Xinjiang, was shaken by a dramatic episode: a fire broke out in a building. 10 people, including several children, lost their lives in the flames. Their building was confined, and the emergency services took nearly two hours to be able to access it. On their side, the victims could not escape, the door of their staircase being sealed. The fire ignites the powder: the Chinese are rising up against health restrictions, holding them responsible for the disaster. The following Sunday, crowds of demonstrators pound the pavement in several large cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai or Wuhan. Responding to a call for mobilization launched on social networks (yet banned or censored in China), they took the police forces by surprise.
4. Protesting is illegal in China
If in France, to demonstrate is a right, in China, it is more complicated. Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution of 1982, however, recognizes the freedom of speech and states that the “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, assembly, association, procession and demonstration. » However, in application, it is a bit less forgiving. Since the beginning of the revolts, many arrests have been recorded in the country. According to Hana Young, Deputy Regional Director ofAmnistie international, “In China, it is almost impossible to demonstrate peacefully without being harassed and sued. Authorities have zero tolerance for opposition” . Faced with the situation, the UN calls on China to respect the rights of peaceful protesters.
5. … Moreover, among the arrests, there are also foreign journalists
On Sunday November 27, a BBC correspondent was arrested in Shanghai, tackled to the ground and handcuffed by the police while covering the event. He was then detained for several hours before being released. According to the BBC, “During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. ». A journalist for RTS, a Swiss TV channel, was threatened by agents live.
6. The claims have spread
In addition to demonstrating their fed up with health restrictions, the Chinese are also rising up against the “government” in place. Activists protest against repression and censorship. Some go so far as to demand the departure of the dictator Xi Jinping, president of the “People’s Republic of China”. A demonstration of hostility towards the regime and its president which is more than rare.
7. The blank page, symbol of the struggle
The protesters brandish white sheets of paper, symbolizing their demands and the censorship they suffer. Since their sheets are blank, they cannot be censored. Finally, that was on paper… From now on, images of white pages are also censored from Chinese social networks.
8. It’s a historic move
The last time that riots had reached this scale, both in terms of extent on the territory and of people mobilized (several tens of thousands), it was in 1989, with the pro-democracy demonstrations of Tiananmen. Given the heavy censorship and repression that the Chinese people constantly suffer, any form of opposition to the government is rare. If small revolts break out from time to time, it is extremely rare that they find an echo everywhere in the country.
9. Obviously, censorship and repression are in order
Demonstrators called on their personal telephones and warned, summoned to no longer take part in the movement; arrests with a vengeance; palisades erected to block access to certain streets and avoid demonstrations; police who force passers-by to erase all images of movement; violent clashes between protesters and security forces; patrols and police stationed at various locations in major cities to stem new movements; all information, media and testimonies about the movement erased and blocked from social networks; media censorship… The government pulls out heavy paraphernalia to intimidate the crowds, arrest the leaders, and reassert the dictatorial power of Xi Jinping. The country’s main security body also called on Tuesday, November 29, for the “repression” of “hostile forces”.
10. … But some manage to circumvent censorship
How tens of thousands of people were able to meet simultaneously, across the country, even though Chinese social networks censor all protest content, especially since the tragedy of June 3, 1989, when the People’s Army of China had opened set fire to thousands of students? Reportedly, protesters responded to calls made on social media. For the lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, Zhao Alexandre Huang, for TV5 Monde, “As a researcher, you can’t understand what happened, how people came together, casually and spontaneously”. It is likely that the activists resorted to clever stratagems, such as coded languages or images without messages (the famous white squares) to circumvent these taboos.
11. What are the economic repercussions of such a movement, on a world scale?
According to the decryption of Fanny Guinochet for France Info, several shortages are to be expected, particularly in the tech sectors (Apple could lose up to 10% of its sales in the first quarter), and the automobile, the European lines depending of many electronic components made in China. In the same way, the concern grows on the side of the manufacturers of furniture or decoration, their goods depending mainly on the Asian country. In France, the social movement has already impacted the economy. On November 28, all stock markets were already in decline, including that of Paris.
For the moment, China is maintaining its “Zero Covid” policy, with a few tiny reliefs here and there. In Urumqi, for example, the site of the triggering fire, the population can again take the bus to go shopping. Yeah, we’re still a long way from a return to “normal life”. Protests continue across the country.