The Communist Party Is Losing China’s People

Nov. 30, 2022, 11:23 a.m. ET

Chinese students protesting the repressive Covid policies.
Chinese students protesting the repressive Covid policies.Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Wu Qiang

Mr. Wu is a writer and political scientist who lives in Beijing.

“BEIJING — The scenes in China in recent days have been electrifying.

“Last weekend, in several cities across the country, from cosmopolitan Shanghai to far-western Xinjiang, ordinary people took to the streets to denounce the government’s stifling Covid-19 suppression policy and in some cases call for democracy and freedom of speech.

The sudden release of nearly three years of pent-up frustration over the excessive Covid measures — which have disrupted lives, separated families and crippled the economy — is the largest anti-government outburst since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square. Again, the odds are against the protesters. The Chinese Communist Party, which completely controls the country, has moved quickly to suppress it.

But the Chinese people have reached a tipping point. The brutal crackdown in 1989 left China’s people depoliticized and intimidated into the social contract that has governed life for three decades: Leave politics to the party in return for some economic freedom. A new generation, pushed to the brink by the government’s zero-Covid obsession, has discovered its voice.

It is ironic how this came about. After the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, preventing pro-democracy protests in China became one of President Xi Jinping’s top priorities. Chinese civil society was wiped out, and he has strengthened his power by purging the party of any potential political rivals and amending China’s Constitution in 2018 to abolish presidential term limits, allowing him to remain in power indefinitely. The uncompromising approach to the pandemic is merely an extension of that, another tool to prevent an open society from developing. After a decade of enormous effort by the party to inoculate China against revolution, it has brought one on itself through its zero-Covid policy.”