On Oct. 13, just a few days before the start of the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, a man staged a solo protest on an overpass in Beijing against President Xi Jinping and his draconian “zero covid” policy. I had hoped that this lone hero’s actions would trigger a wave of peaceful protest to stop Xi from continuing to harm the Chinese people — even though my hopes were tempered by an awareness that the regime’s policies of intense repression have made protests rare and almost impossible to start.
The demonstrations began by expressing rage over harsh “zero covid” policies, but the protesters’ demands quickly evolved into a movement demanding broader freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from the dictates of the Communist Party. The demonstrators everywhere are largely repeating the slogans displayed by that lone protester on the Beijing bridge. “We want to eat, not do coronavirus tests; reform, not the Cultural Revolution,” read one recent banner. “We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not enslaved people.”
As someone who participated in the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989, I can’t help feeling echoes of that moment in the events taking place in China now.
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is an educational, research, and human rights nonprofit devoted to commemorating the more than 100 million victims of communism around the world and to pursuing the freedom of those still living under totalitarian regimes.