Over the weekend, large demonstrations broke out in cities across China. The protests followed news, spread rapidly across Chinese and international social media, that a fire in an apartment building in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumchi on Friday had turned deadly, claiming at least 10 lives, possibly as a result of the region’s COVID lockdowns. Throngs of residents took to the streets in anger, where the singing of “The Internationale” and China’s national anthem mingled with calls to end the zero-COVID policy. In Shanghai, where protesters gathered Saturday on the city’s Urumchi Road, chants expressed both support for the fire’s victims as well as calls for the lifting of zero-COVID restrictions, and even demands—extraordinary in a country that does not tolerate political dissent—that China’s Communist Party and its newly reappointed leader, Xi Jinping, “step down.” On Sunday, demonstrators appeared at multiple locations across Beijing, including Peking and Tsinghua universities, where some called for “universal rights” and “freedom of expression” while others held aloft blank sheets of paper, symbols of the many things they were forbidden to say.

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