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Xi’s Zero-Covid Failure could Devour his Party

Eventually, tyranny that defies humanity always backfires. Even in China, there is no exception. The Chinese people nationwide are currently standing up to the CCP for its mindlessly enforced Zero-Covid policy. This “white paper revolution” threatens to have reverberations for the Xi administration.

Cover Image for Xi’s Zero-Covid Failure could Devour his Party
China is at a COVID-19 crossroadsSource: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Article byPangying Peng
December 21, 2022

The Chinese people nationwide are currently standing up to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its mindlessly enforced Zero-Covid policy. After residents died in an apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, due to draconian Covid restrictions that hampered them from escaping, many young Chinese threw caution to the wind and took to the streets.

This fire was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Over the past three years, tragedies engendered by Covid “restrictions” have been countless. Lockdowns and rigid PCR requirements diminished people’s mobility, crippled economic activities and crowded out medical resources for other regular treatments. Absurd incidents such as hospitals refusing treatments for emergencies–which led to several manufactured deaths–occurred. While the patience of the Chinese people has been stretched, tightening grip on freedom of expression precludes people’s channels of venting grievances. Therefore, when they learned that innocent compatriots got killed in the fire because the emergency exits were welded, the long pent-up public resentment was unleashed.

The sorrowful and irked Chinese held vigils in major cities on November 26 and 27, which then escalated to political protests against the Zero-Covid policy and the CCP’s regime. Numerous videos have been released filming the rallies, chanting slogans that not only demanded the lifting of the Covid measures but also went as far as to call for bringing down Xi and the CCP. Many of the protestors were maskless, despite the risks of being identified later by ubiquitous surveillance cameras. The most representative display of discontent featured protesters holding a blank A4 paper, signifying that Chinese citizens are deprived of the right to voice their true thoughts. Therefore, the movement has been dubbed the “white paper revolution.” Whether the uprising would rock the CCP's rule to its foundations, or be simply co-opted by its strategic concessions made on Covid measures, remains to be seen. Yet, the courage and demands manifested by the Chinese in those demonstrations have been unprecedented since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, during which the protesters did not even demand that the CCP step down. Soon after, Chinese students studying overseas–long thought to be the privileged class in China and mostly the CCP’s ardent defenders–began to echo these movements, organizing a series of demonstrations in major cities around the world.

Ironically, Xi’s dehumanizing obsession with zero-Covid revives the long-asphyxiated humanity within the Chinese. It was long thought that the CCP’s heavy-handed dictatorship has created a perfectly docile and subservient population. Mass surveillance enabled by AI, and collective punishment that uses families to submit dissidents, have already castrated the civic consciousness that the Chinese could have developed alongside China's economic development. They also condition the Chinese to turn a blind eye to others' suffering so that spontaneous collective actions can hardly germinate. However, faced with the tyranny embodied by a zero-Covid policy that disregards science, common sense and basic human needs, the humanity within the Chinese people—which the CCP has for years attempted to smother—reflourishes unexpectedly.

The young Chinese have responded to the subsequent crackdowns dauntlessly. In Nanjing, when a university chancellor menaced students with risks posed to their future careers and asked them to identify themselves, the students reported their names without reservation. In Shanghai, when the police questioned the protestors about who organized the demonstration, many responded that they themselves organized it or that “Chinese people" organized it. Protestors in Chongqing made efforts to extricate a man who cried Patrick Henry’s prominent quotation “give me liberty or give me death” from the riot police. Students in Beijing repudiated the tried-and-tested allegation of being incited by “external forces” from the state apparatus and contested how the “external forces” can reach them when Internet censorship is pervasively enforced. Eventually, tyranny that defies humanity always backfires. Even in China, this is no exception. The demonstrations sparked by the Urumqi fire also tell us that the Chinese are not nonchalant about the widely reported atrocities against the Uyghurs, the country’s ethnic minority.

Responses from the Chinese government remain brutal as usual, but this time they make the regime look more absurd, and plainly reveal its fear and fragility in the face of its own people. Censorship and disinformation efforts have been turbocharged over the past weeks. Posts reminiscent of the demonstrations were quickly taken down. Government algorithms unlisted the discussion about the demonstrations from the top trending topics on Chinese social media. Even the Chinese national anthem was censored because its lyrics sing “rise up, the people who don’t want to be slaves.”

No matter how hard the CCP seeks to eradicate the traces, “the white paper revolution” is bound to have reverberations among the Chinese. We should be hopeful that the awakened humanity will inexorably blossom into Chinese people’s democratic aspirations. Decades of the CCP’s cognitive warfare have made some in the West believe that efficiency is the institutional advantage of its dictatorship. Nevertheless, in the case of wrong policies that produce disastrous consequences, dictatorship is immensely inefficient as no self-correction mechanism is in place to timely right the wrong. Checks and balances accompanied by democratization will prevent one man from riding roughshod and, most importantly, protect the Chinese from the harm associated with the overexpansion of government power.

The most notable Chinese classic–the “Three Character Classic,” read by all children when they enter school–states in the very first sentence that “men on earth, good at birth (人之初,性本善).” It means that kindness and compassion are inherent to humanity, which is rooted in the long Chinese civilization. The humanity of the Chinese will unite them and dispel their fears. Above all, what tyrants fear the most is that their people no longer fear them.

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent that of the IWAB platform.