Chinese authorities heavily censored discussion of Thursday’s rare protest in Beijing, where large banners calling for boycotts and demolitions were unfurled on an overpass. Xi JinpingThe most important event of China’s five-year political cycle is just a few days away.
Photos and videos of the protest On Thursday afternoon, social media showed plumes of smoke seen on Sitong Bridge, but also rising from a bridge over a major avenue in the capital’s Haidian district.
“We want food, not PCR tests. We want freedom, not prisons. We want respect, not lies. We want reform, not a cultural revolution. We want votes, not leaders. We want to be citizens, not slaves,” read one banner, while another called for school boycotts, strikes and Xi’s removal from office.
The photos quickly circulated on western social media, but were quickly removed from platforms behind China’s “Great Firewall” of the internet. According to the Associated Press, posts containing the words “Beijing”, “bridge” or “Haidian” have been heavily censored and a song sharing the bridge’s name has been removed from streaming services.
Some users on Twitter said their accounts on WeChat, another major Chinese platform, were temporarily suspended after they shared protest photos.
However, at a time when political sensitivities are extreme, such a rare protest drew attention. On Friday morning, the hashtag “I saw it” on Weibo, which people were referring to without referring to the incident, had also been viewed more than 180,000 times before it was deleted, and some posters they suspended their accounts For violating Weibo’s rules and regulations.
“I saw it, we all saw it,” said one post.
Asked what the hashtag was referring to, one user replied, “Look on Twitter, bro, if you’re looking for capital, you can find anything.”
Other commentators referenced the song from Les Miserables, which was briefly censored in 2019 after it became a popular protest song in Hong Kong.
Many comments referred to the revolutionary saying made famous by Mao Zedong: “A small spark can set the desert ablaze.”
One of them added to the Maoist metaphor: “Suddenly my anxiety subsided when I saw someone acting like a moth putting out a fire and sacrificing his life for righteousness.”
“One is making it worse by trying to cover it up,” added another.
Some netizens claimed to have posted screenshots of the protester on Twitter, including Chinese dissident and former CCP insider Cai Xia, who claimed the protester’s tweets had been deleted for several days. Others shared photos of the protester, disguised in a construction helmet and T-shirt, allegedly on the bridge.
Fang Zhouzi is a Chinese science writer living in the United States, said the same slogans displayed on the bridge were posted to his ResearchGate account by a suspected protester a few days earlier. The posts have since been deleted, Fang said, after police made the arrests.
“It’s good to know your identity, at least it won’t evaporate from the world,” he said.
Such open and outspoken opposition to Xi would have been significant at the best of times, but it came just days after the decision. Congress of the Communist Party. Thousands of political delegates have descended on Beijing for a week of closed-door meetings and highly choreographed political talks that are expected to re-elect Xi for a record-breaking third term and further consolidate his power as China’s authoritarian leader.
The current protest appears to have been quickly quelled by Thursday afternoon. Not long after the pictures appeared on the Internet, no banners were posted on the road. A circular black scar was seen on the shoulder where the fire would have taken place, and according to journalists at the scene, there was a heavy police presence.
Officers entered the stores and stopped pedestrians for questioning. Associated Press journalists were questioned three times and asked for identification. The police denied that anything unusual happened in the area.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin and agencies
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