Has the mighty Chinese Communist Party (CCP) surrendered to the will of the people? Has the strong and ruthless regime under Xi Jinping succumbed to the masses? Is the communist rule ready to accommodate the wishes of the proletariat?
It may sound ironic, but these questions have surfaced after the Chinese government announced its decision to come out with a 10-point Covid protocol to replace the 20-point old protocol. The government will unveil the new less stringent set of Covid restrictions on December 7.
Beijing is most likely to downgrade Covid management from the most infectious disease grade ‘A’ to less stringent measures of grade ‘B’.
The Chinese government has already taken some measures to loosen the grip and discontinue a few measures to allow the people more relaxed norms.
But, there is no sudden change of heart, the covid-19 situation has not changed overnight either.
The experts believe that the sudden U-turn has been taken as a measure to cool down the tempers of the people so that there is no repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incidents.
The decision to assuage the feelings of the people and to accommodate them has been taken after widespread protests erupted across the country. These protests were triggered by a fire in Xinjiang capital Urumqi, killing 10 people.
But, days before this, an unknown man hung two anti-lockdown and pro-democracy banners on the parapet of the Sitong Bridge in Beijing on 13 October 2022. This rumbling of dissent was heard on the eve of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.
A massive protest was held on 5 November 2022 in Guangzhou, where migrant workers marched on the streets of the Haizhu district.
On the night of 22–23 November, workers of a Foxconn factory clashed with security forces and police in Zhengzhou in Central China.
In Chongqing, a man protested on the street on November 24 and shouted, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Similar protests were held in Nanjing, Lanzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, Korta, Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Hong Kong and Urumqi.
Worse, the slogans were not limited to local authorities or those involved in implementing the Covid-19 strict measures. Slogans were raised against the omnipotent and omnipresent CCP and its head Xi Jinping.
‘CCP Stepdown’, ‘Xi Jinping Stepdown’, ‘We are not slaves, and ‘We want freedom’ were some of the most popular slogans.
Xi Jinping was given the unprecedented third term only a few days back and his opponents were sidelined. Jinping’s predecessor Hu Jintao was humiliated publicly when he was removed unceremoniously from the podium in the Great Hall of The People during the 20th CCP Congress. Such was Xi’s clout!
This was followed by massive protests. Political observers have opined that these protests were not against the Covid-19 measures, there were against the CCP, the authoritarian regime and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. The Urumqi fire was just a trigger and the Covid-19 measures were just an excuse that allowed the growing dissent to manifest itself.
Observers believe that the CCP has taken a smart move to accommodate the people and use the recent rumblings as a safety valve.
Basically, it is against the leadership pattern shown by Xi Jinping. By trying to accommodate the people’s wishes, it is going back to the post-Tiananmen Square crackdown days.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled in Tiananmen Square in the capital Beijing on April 15, 1989, demanding political reforms, freedom of speech, respect for human rights and a multi-party democratic system. The then CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang sympathised with the students. His death triggered the Tiananmen Square protest.
After waiting for more than a month and a half, the administration sent the tanks to Tiananmen, resulting in the death of about 10,000 people, mostly youth.
But it forced the CCP to change itself. The CCP adopted the policy of inner party democracy, and collective leadership and accommodated those who did not always support the party line and the government decisions.
There was a large-scale purge and a new leadership emerged. Jiang Zemin replaced Zhao Ziang as the CCP General Secretary. He later became president of the country.
Jiang Zemin encouraged inner party democracy, did not sideline those who opposed him and groomed a new generation of future leaders.
Xi Jinping was one of those leaders, who opened their wings under the leadership of Jiang Zemin.
But once he became the CCP general secretary in 2012, Xi Jinping decided to take regressive steps. He crushed the inner party democracy, put them behind bars or sidelined all those whom he considered a challenger in future.
Under Xi Jinping, the administration became centralised, all the powers were vested in the hands of a few people, police and security forces were given more powers and party schools were asked to teach adherence to the central leadership instead of the proletariat.
This led to internal discontent, anger against the party leadership and continuous grudge against the party. It was back to square one, back to the pre-Tianmanmen crackdown days.
But as all the powers are vested in General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is full of confidence, vigour and ambition after the 20th Congress endorsed him for the third time, putting him on the same pedestal as Mao Zedong, will he accept the changes?
Will Xi Jinping hit back after a while and become more aggressive, will he resolve to stamp out all opposition after consolidating his position? There is no one in the party to oppose any move of Xi Jinping. Will these protests help the CCP take a new avatar or will it become a more aggressive juggernaut, crushing all those who come in its way?