As protests fade in China, organizers abroad vow to fight on
By Han Chen
17 January 2023
The newfound political fervor that sent protesters to the streets in China over Beijing’s zero-COVID policy is helping Chinese activists worldwide grow their bases and forge stronger ties with other pro-democracy protesters, organizers based abroad told Axios.
The big picture: The COVID protests in China last November achieved their primary goal — the end of mass lockdowns, quarantines, and daily testing — even though police quashed the demonstrations within days.
While the end of zero-COVID slowed momentum for Chinese protesters abroad who are calling for democracy in China and the resignation of President Xi Jinping, it also proved protests can influence policy decisions in Beijing.
“Chinese people have definitely become more politically minded over the last few years, and the COVID-19 pandemic hastened that process,” said Miho, 19, a student at the University of California, Irvine.
Background: Late last year, dozens of Chinese cities saw the country’s largest political demonstrations in decades, as protesters demanded an end to zero-COVID policies.
Organizers abroad soon followed suit, with some solidarity rallies openly calling for Xi Jinping to step down. One of the largest rallies was held near the Chinese consulate in New York City, where about 1,000 people gathered on Nov. 29. Many held blank sheets of paper, just like protesters in China.
Axios spoke with eight overseas organizers across the U.S. and in Canada, including one who coordinated the New York rally. Most of them asked only their English names be used, fearing retaliation from the Chinese government against them and their families.
What they’re saying: “I think it’s a short-term victory for the Chinese people, but it’s not enough,” said Wang Han, a 25-year-old student at the University of Southern California, who went on a hunger strike outside of Apple’s headquarters last month to protest the company’s human rights records in China.
“If you don’t have the right to choose your own destiny, if you do not have the freedom to express disagreement with your government, then another tragedy will happen in the future,” he added.
Yes, but: “[F]or a lot of people, their basic interest has been fulfilled by the relieving of the zero-COVID policy,” a Chinese activist based in California told Axios, noting this has decreased the momentum among Chinese people abroad who were most incensed by the travel barriers, quarantines, and economic damage caused by zero-COVID policies.
And not everyone wants “democratization,” said Jules, a 23-year-old student organizer from northern China who coordinated several solidarity rallies in Chicago late last year.