Live Update: Opening of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China

Protest banners hang on the Sitong Bridge in Beijing on October 13.

China’s online censorship went into overdrive after a rare protest on a busy overpass in Beijing, with public criticism of Xi Jinping’s uncompromising zero-coronavirus policy and authoritarian rule, fueling pent-up tensions among the Chinese public.

Photos circulated on Twitter on Thursday showing two protest banners scattered across the Sitong Bridge in Beijing’s Haidian district in broad daylight, with smoke billowing from the bridge.

“No to Covid testing, yes to food. No lockdown, yes freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to Cultural Revolution, yes to reform. No to great leaders, yes to voting … don’t become a slave, become a citizen,” one banner read.

“Go on strike to remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping,” another wrote.

When CNN arrived at Sitong Bridge around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, there were no protesters or banners in sight — as if nothing had happened.

Some context: Public protests against the top leadership are extremely rare in China, and dissidents face imprisonment or worse consequences.

The dissatisfaction on Thursday was all the more dramatic given that a major political meeting is looming and authorities have turned Beijing into a bastion of security and stability.

Review: Users on Chinese social networks spoke out, expressing their support and awe for the brazen resistance. Some shared the Chinese pop song “The Lonely Warrior,” an implicit reference to the protester, some called him a “hero,” while others vowed never to forget, posting under the hashtag: “I see” .

Many posts were taken down and accounts were suspended indefinitely after commenting on or alluding to the protests on Chinese social media, such as Twitter-like platforms Weibo and super-app WeChat.

Key words in the app’s search results were immediately restricted, such as “Sitong Bridge” and “Haidian” — the sites of protests. Words like “Beijing”, “Warrior”, “Brave” and even “Courage” are also restricted.

Lock, Test, Repeat: China’s zero-coronavirus strategy means that even a single infection could trigger a city-wide lockdown, requiring people to stay at home or be sent to quarantine centers for isolation.

The Chinese government’s draconian zero-coronavirus policy has added to public frustration as unpredictable lockdowns and mass testing cycles upend daily life and wreak havoc on the economy.

What to look out for: Hopes that China may ease restrictions on the epidemic after the party’s congress was all but crushed as the Communist Party remains tough.

A week before the important meeting, the official mouthpiece People’s Daily published three comments reiterating that China would not let its guard down.

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