Xi Jinping, who walked out to address the Chinese nation less than six weeks ago exuded regal dominance. He had just won another decade of power. His new subordinates were unbending loyalists. The Communist Party Congress had consolidated his authoritarian agenda, and promised a new era when China’s 1.4 million people would remain loyal to him and the party.
A nationwide protest surge has shown that, even after ten years of Mr. Xi’s rule a small, mostly young, part of the population still wants to see another China. It is more liberal, less controllable, and politically freer. The collective roar of dissent, which has been subject to censorship, detentions, and official condemnation under Mr. Xi, suddenly exploded into a murmur.
Chen Min, a prominent Chinese journalist and writer, said in an essay this week that “I can regain faith in society” and “a generation of youth,” and went by the pen name Xiao Shu . “Now I have grounds for my faith: Brainwashing is possible, but it has its limits.”
The police have been mobilizing to stop new protests since the weekend. On Thursday, the government signaled that it was willing to address the root causes of public anger by implementing intrusive pandemic control measures. One city saw its residents return to work after weeks of lockdowns had been lifted. Others were not required to undergo regular Covid testing. In Beijing, a senior official in health said that the country was now entering a new phase of its fight against the virus for the second consecutive day.
Although the party has yet to publicly acknowledge the mass protests against lockdowns in China, authorities have been scanning phones and interrogating protesters. They also stage loud, forceful displays of force at potential protest locations. After the death of Jiang Zemin on Wednesday, vigilantes will increase. This was a former Chinese president, who more in retirement than in office, earned a political patina for being a moderate leader. On Tuesday, his memorial service is scheduled.
Despite this, the defiance flash flood suggests that Mr. Xi could have more contested and turbulent years ahead of him than was possible even a month ago. His grip on the party elite seems invincible; his hold on other parts of society, particularly the young, seems less certain.