Under ‘zero COVID’ policy, four million Urumqi residents have been placed under lockdown and banned from leaving their homes for four months. 

A fire incident that happened on November 24 deepened the pain of the people here. 

As Bloomberg News reported, videos circulating on the internet revealed that the fire engines were trying to get to the building while also spraying water at the flames from a distance. 

In another video, people were seen removing barriers for the fire engines. 

The fire that killed at least 10 people in Urumqi, then sparked outrage over the prolonged COVID lockdown.

Many posts on Chinese social media asked if the lockdown delayed rescue operations. Or if any restrictions, such as locked doors, prevented people from escaping. 

Accordingly, Urumqi city residents took to the streets to protest the following day. 

Protesters gathered in large numbers at the city hall of Urumqi, China. They chanted: ”Lift lockdown, now! Lift lockdown, now!” A few protesters, also angry, tried to enter the city hall. There have also been clashes between people and the anti-epidemic staff, known as Dabai.

Citizens also live-streamed protesters marching to the Urumqi city hall, supported by many people from all around. However, @songpinganq tweeted the internet was down at the time, and electricity was cut in many parts of the city.

Also, on the evening of November 25, citizens in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi allegedly took the streets to protest. Together, they chanted, “End the lockdown!”

Images and videos of the locals’ mass protests have been widely shared on international social media.

A day later, on 26, Urumqi officials quickly held a news conference to deny COVID restrictions had delayed escape and rescue. 

Yet, the move didn’t ease Chinese people.

Discontent caused by the fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, spread quickly. People in many cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, took to the streets to protest. Many places held memorials for the dead and carried protest slogans.

 The most prominent place was Shanghai, as people have suffered so much due to the draconian lockdown implemented earlier this year.

Many Shanghai residents gathered on Urumqi Road in Shanghai to remember the fire victims in Urumqi.

They even chant slogans, “Communist Party step down! Xi Jinping step down,” shocking both citizens at home and abroad.

Remember that directly opposing the Chinese Communist Party (or CCP)  is very dangerous as the CCP can impose brutal crackdowns to suppress protesters. For example, in 1989, the CCP killed ten thousand innocent students in the Tiananmen massacre.

Shanghai’s police threatened to accuse the protesters of picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Then, they entered the protest crowd, arresting some of the protesters.

These policies also blocked the entrances of Urumqi road, leaving only one exit for people to leave. But Chinese people seem to be no longer afraid of the Chinese regime, those at the scene did not go away.

Much footage recorded at the scene has accused the police of forcing the arrested people onto the bus and brutally beating them.

Another video shows police pressing down a young man holding a camera, and tying him up.

Even a video shared on Twitter shows the image of Tank Man in 1989 at Tiananmen Square has reappeared. It showed a resident stopping a police car by calmly stepping in front of it. Suddenly, a group of policemen rushed over violently, suppressing the young man by force, and dragging him away. Several people standing around shouted in protest and tried to intervene but were prevented.

In an attempt to quell the protest, Shanghai police also attacked Ed Lawrence, a journalist from British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Footage on Twitter showed at least four Chinese police officers dragging Lawrence to the ground and pulling him away in handcuffs. 

Reuters cited a spokesperson for the paper saying, “He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.”

The spokesperson added, “We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught COVID from the crowd.” 

Zhou Fengsuo is the founder of the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China. He is also a student protest leader from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. 

He said that the resentment against the government is seething underneath.

Zhou told Radio Free Asia:

“The anger of the people can no longer be restrained, and it feels like being on the edge of a volcano. Particularly this year; nobody has been able to escape the impact of the zero-COVID policy.”

He said that a typical symptom of that anger could be reflected in a recent protest from a Beijing traffic bridge demanding elections and Xi Jinping to resign.

The former 1989 student protest leader said:

“People used to just seek a quiet life, accepting humiliation and being silenced as the price for that.”

“But now, a lot of people who used to pretend they could just live quietly can’t pretend that any more.”

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