by Austin Williams
Monday, 28
November 2022
Explainer
15:00

Has China reached breaking point over Covid?

A tragic fire has compounded public discontent with Xi's policies
by Austin Williams
Protestors in Beijing on Monday 28th November. Credit: Getty

To paraphrase Mao, some sparks can ignite history. In China, that spark — or more accurately a major fire in a housing block — seems to have galvanised public anger at the repressive policies of the Chinese state. 

On the night of 24th November, ten people died and nine others were seriously injured in a fire in a high-rise housing block in Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Some reports suggest that the residents were locked inside as part of China’s Zero Covid policy and were unable to escape. China Daily, a newspaper of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, was sufficiently rattled to rush out a statement: “It has been confirmed by sources from the community and fire crews that none of the doors to the apartments or the building were sealed.”


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Whether that is true or not is of no consequence: increasing numbers of vocal protesters are refusing to believe it and have taken to the streets. Ordinary people are chanting, “You’ll pay for what you did” and openly calling for President Xi Jinping to resign.

Little information has been released, but it seems that many of those residents are thought to be Muslim. Even though we have been led to believe that Chinese people have no concern for those living in Xinjiang, the outrage at the lives lost led, within 24 hours, to violent protests in Shanghai, some 2000 miles away.

At the same time, riots in Zhengzhou’s Foxconn factory have gone viral on social media. Camera footage shows workers smashing up testing centres and battling the authorities. It challenges the official version of events that workers were demanding better Covid protection, and has shown the nation that there are like-minded protesters, unwilling to accept the authority and abuse of state officials.

Over the weekend of 26-27th November there have been substantial protests in a number of cities across China, from Urumqi to Shanghai, from Beijing to Nanjing. Tens of thousands have risked the brutality of the Dabai (“big whites”), the army of thugs dressed in hazmat outfits masquerading as Covid health workers. Protestors are demanding an end to the lockdowns, and to constant monitoring and testing. Their bravery is summed up by one placard: “There’s only one disease in the world and that’s lack of freedom.”

Xi’s relentless pursuit of Zero Covid, using isolation as a tool to combat the disease, has been proved devastatingly wrong. In the beginning, the authorities could point to remarkably low Covid fatalities compared to the Western world. Just 5,250 deaths have been officially recorded in a population of 1.4 billion, compared to 1 million officially registered Covid fatalities in the USA amongst a much smaller population.

Millions of people have been locked down in cities across the country on the discovery of as few as 50 cases. When lockdown statistics looked good in comparison to the West, this was accepted. But last week’s massive spike in cases — the biggest for three years — has demonstrated that lockdown has not improved the public health situation one bit. It is also increasingly apparent that lockdown is the only strategy on offer.

Middle-class families have lost businesses, university graduates have lost their education, and industrialists have seen their profits plummet. Anger is not very far from the surface in major urban conurbations. Everyone on social media can see that the West has opened up without too many problems. It therefore seems that the Urumqi fire, the spike in cases and the wage protests at Foxconn’s factory have seeded a perfect storm. The situation may now be reaching a tipping point.

That said, it would take a brave or foolish person to predict what will happen next. Will there be a relaxation of Covid rules, a brutal crackdown by the Party, an admission of state overreach, an acknowledgement of its failure of leadership, or even the fall of the regime? China has a habit of defying simplistic prophecies, but over time the dynamics of national and international politics suggests that all of these things may come to pass. Whatever happens, this conflagration will markedly change China.

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Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 months ago

Personally, I think it would be freaking amazing if COVID finally undid China. The great Silk Curtain lifting because of a virus manufactured with US money in a lab in Wuhan? Poetry.

Geoffrey Hicking
Geoffrey Hicking
2 months ago

I think it’s time we felt more positive about ourselves.
Our leaders unlocked [almost] as soon as the vaccine reached a majority of the vulnerable, and said vaccines were made by us, the Americans, and Indians and goodness knows who else. The vaccines worked, and the death-toll from COVID is low enough that we can now turn to the cost of lockdown and its victims.

China, by contrast is still locking down. You want a decadent and authoritarian regime constantly looking for excuses to keep its population under wraps? Look East.

I understand that there are MANY legitimate concerns with lockdown and how the West is governed, but let’s have a little confidence in ourselves. Russia is bogged down in a war with vast quantities of hardware destroyed, partly because of our weaponry and intelligence. China is undergoing the very dystopian nightmare people were warning we would face.

I think we’re doing a bit better than them at times.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 months ago

I have a suspicion that this is more designed to create a war mindset for Taiwan… How to heighten preparedness for an invasion… I don’t think domestic lockdown over covid is the real end game. Military planning & control using covid, internal first then external with regards to that island.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago

Agreed. I’m pretty grateful that I was born in the west, and particularly in the U.K. But unfortunately we feed on hysteria and seem to demand catastrophism these days.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

“Our leaders unlocked [almost] as soon as the vaccine reached a majority of the vulnerable”
I don’t know where you are, but our dear leaders in the UK did not. We got out pretty much thanks to party gate, otherwise…
In addition, I am in Scotland and if our Great Leader had her on way, we would be China 2.0.
So, no… We don’t live in China, but it doesn’t mean that what happened here was right or lasted only the necessary amount of time.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Indeed.

And even where there are no longer any official lockdowns, school closures and face covering and/or Wuhan flu shot requirements, to this day we see the tyranny of public opinion, “a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)

Which among other undesirable outcomes continues to render impossible an honest assessment of the rationale for those tyrannical “safety” measures.

For example the author of this piece blithely repeats the obviously absurd figure of the “one million officially registered fatalities from coronavirus” in the US.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

If the Covid shots “worked”, why are people who got them still getting sick and spreading the thing? Why haven’t I, unvaxxed, gotten it? Why are young men afflicted with vax- caused myocarditis, and why are so many healthy people dropping dead “unexpectedly”? Depends on what the meaning of the word “worked” is.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 months ago

why are people who got them still getting sick and spreading the thing?

Because vaccination *reduces* the risk of hospitalisation and death (maybe by 80%, depends on strain, age group and boosters), but does not *eliminate* it, nor prevent you from getting sick at all. COVID vaccines help a lot but they are not as good as they are against some other diseases

Why haven’t I, unvaxxed, gotten it?

Because you have been lucky.

Why are young men afflicted with vax- caused myocarditis,

Becasuse that is one, rare side effect of the vaccine. COVID causes that kind of effect too, and is a lot more dangerous than vaccination. And people sometimes, rarely , just drop dead with neither COVID nor vaccination.

and why are so many healthy people dropping dead “unexpectedly”?

Because a few people do that, and if you are trying hard enough to make out that it is caused by COVID vaccination you can always find something to hang you hat on.

But surely you knew all that already?

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
2 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

There are studies that show that the mRNA vaccines cause myocarditis in young men more often than in the general population. Some deaths have also been attributed to vaccine-induced myocarditis, though they are rare.
On the other hand, studies have shown that Covid-19 infections do not increase the risk of myocarditis in young men.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 months ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

I am not sure. One random reference (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35264415/) gives the risk of myocarditis among vaccinated young men as 12.2 per 10000. It quotes the risk of myocarditis among COVID patients of all ages and sexes as 0.01%, which is 10 per 10000, i.e.roughly the same. But yes, myocarditis is well established as a complication of vaccination in young men, and it may well be that you are right. But then, all drugs and vaccines have side effects. The question is always whether the risk of side effects is better than the risks of getting the disease.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

For young men, obviously the risk for myocarditis is greater than that for Covid. Vaccines should be only for the very elderly and those with very compromised immune systems (if they so choose).

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Arehart

Could be – but why ‘obviously’? Where do you get your data from? Got a reference?