Recent protests in China drew comparisons to the political demonstrations of 1989, as well as to more localized and group-specific protests since 1990. This raises questions of how the present protests differ from previous ones, whether they represent a new type of protest, and how outside policymakers can best respond to them.
The protests against China’s zero-COVID policies are notable for featuring overt criticism of Xi Jinping, the CCP and the country’s political system. Coming just weeks after Xi was reappointed to a third term as party leader, the protests are a major reversal in the triumphalist narrative he and the CCP had hoped to portray.
Back in 2020, the West’s initial difficulties in responding effectively to the coronavirus pandemic looked like a propaganda godsend for Beijing. Now, with China’s COVID-19 response triggering the biggest protests the country has seen in decades, it looks like the regime’s effort to capitalize on the pandemic has backfired spectacularly.