China Protests – What is Happening?

Matan Davies

On November 24th, ten people were killed in an apartment fire in Urumqi, China. Sparked by the deaths, the citizens of China went to the streets to protest against the strict “zero COVID policy” that the Chinese government has been using to crack down on COVID cases. Nevertheless, how has an apartment fire led to protests against COVID policies?

China’s “zero COVID policy” has been in place for about three years, maintaining strict rules while other nations have eased off COVID laws. Instead, there is increased testing, social distancing, quarantining, restricting travel, and more to prevent an outbreak from happening. Citizens of China were at first mainly on board with the policies, but the recent fire marked a turning point in public opinion.

Authorities have insisted that their policies did not affect the deaths from the apartment fire, but many seem to believe otherwise. Much of the nation believes that because of the 100-day lockdown, emergency help could not get to the apartment quickly enough to save the victims. Protests have been occurring in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, expressing their sadness from the deaths and anger against the COVID policies. The people want to get back to living everyday lives again like many countries have been able to do recently. 

Protesters are seen holding white pieces of paper throughout the protests that symbolize the nation’s citizens’ limits on their expression of political opinions. Speaking out against the government often leads to arrests in China, and thousands of police are dispatched to prevent more demonstrations of widespread sentiment. The white papers are a way to peacefully protest against the strict policies and the lack of political autonomy in said policies. “It will be interesting to see how the protests evolve and change the zero COVID policies,” said Layden Kennedy ’25.