China loosens its grip as citizens protest tough COVID policies


Protests have erupted in major cities in China as Chinese citizens take a stance against government restrictions over COVID-19. Protesters use a blank sheet of paper to symbolize the authoritarian censorship that the Chinese government enforces on its citizens. 

After the COVID pandemic kicked off in late 2019, countries worldwide went into lockdown and took precautions to slow down the spread of the virus.

In 2022, many countries, including the United States, have lifted restrictions while China continues to enforce the same protective measures they’ve had since day one of the pandemic. 

China’s zero-COVID policy has riled up its citizens since the beginning of the virus going global, but recent demonstrations have shown to be a threat to President Xi Jinping’s power hold over his people. 

According to Newsweek, after nights of opposition, China finally loosened its grip on a major city last Wednesday. A capital city in southern China, Guangzhou, is said to be lifting restrictions in lower-risk areas while others remain under lockdown. 

Videos from social media show protestors throwing glass bottles at police wearing hazmat suits with riot gear. 

FHSU Professor of Political Science Larry Gould tries to make sense of the tough restrictions in China. 

“The stability of the Chinese regime is number one for them,” Gould said. “It’s hard to justify from a number of other perspectives. It’s perhaps justifiable in terms of trying to keep the people of China alive.” 

Gould expects to see the number of protests grow over time but doesn’t see a long-term impact, making note of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. 

“I think it demonstrates that the people of China want greater freedoms than they currently have, but I don’t think they’re going to get more democracy,” Gould said. 

FHSU Assistant Professor of Political Science John, who specializes in political theory, American politics, and public law, talks about the Chinese government’s status and the lifting of restrictive measures.

“In nondemocratic societies, there are still pressure points,” Steinmetz said. “The people can still push and pressure the government to be responsive to their needs, and this I think, is exactly what we’re seeing in China.”

“It’s very important to the Chinese government that social control is at a very high level in that country,” Steinmetz said, suspecting that protests for greater freedom will be shut down. “Social control is a pillar of Chinese government policy.”

Both Gould and Steinmetz agree that China’s zero-COVID policy would never have worked in the United States due to the skepticism of government control. 

“The American people are a good example of being in a culture of freedom. When you take it away, then it doesn’t work at all,’ Gould said.

Gould went on to suggest that we should morally support people’s efforts to gain more freedom but doing anything more is a waste of time. 

When asked if the United States should support the protestors of China, Steinmetz said we should take every opportunity as the leader of democracy to undermine authoritarianism to an extent. 

“Frankly, we don’t have a lot of tools to do so,” Steinmetz said, referring to the efforts of U.S. foreign policy. “We have to respect the sovereignty of the people’s Republic of China.”

Steinmetz mentions the economic relationship between the U.S. and China and Gould correlates COVID restrictions in China to the lack of Apple products being made and imported to the U.S. 

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