Voices of Protest: “If Not for the People, Where Would You Be?”

“Voices of Protest” is a special edition of CDT’s monthly “Voices of…” video series. This 15-minute video is a compilation of video footage, images, and audio from the large, spontaneous public protests that broke out in a number of Chinese cities in late November and early December of 2022, and the transnational protest momentum that continues even today.

On October 13, on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Party Congress, a man named Peng Lifa (also known as Peng Zaizhou online) held a solitary protest at Beijing’s Sitong Bridge in which he displayed banners calling for elections, political reform, an end to arbitrary COVID lockdowns, and for Xi Jinping to step down. News about the protest was heavily censored on the Chinese internet and on Chinese social media. Peng was later arrested and his whereabouts remain unknown, but his daring protest ignited undercurrents of dissatisfaction with both China’s COVID policy and Xi Jinping’s unchecked rule, leading supporters to publicize Peng’s demands by creating posters and placing handwritten protest slogans in public toilets and other public areas.

When a deadly fire broke out on November 24 in a residential complex in Urumqi, Xinjiang, the death toll was amplified by the fact that firefighters were prevented from reaching the building due to COVID barricades and stalled cars (that had been sitting, undriven, during over three months of lockdowns). For many Chinese citizens who had suffered under interminable lockdowns, the fire was the last straw: spontaneous public memorials to mourn the victims of the fire quickly turned to broader expressions of dissatisfaction with government policy. Heavy-handed police suppression of the memorial gatherings only served to fuel the protests. Many overseas Chinese and Chinese students studying abroad held demonstrations in support of the mainland protesters, and began to explore new ways to incorporate diversity and address the mistreatment of Uyghurs and other communities at the hands of the Chinese state. 

Based on statistics compiled thus far, there have been public protests in at least 21 provinces in China, drawing large crowds of demonstrators in cities such as Urumqi, Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou. Students have held protests at more than 50 colleges and universities. Demonstrations of support by overseas Chinese residents and Chinese exchange students have taken place in London, Paris, Toronto, New York, Berkeley, and many other locations. 

While the Chinese government attempts to elide the very real issues underlying the protests by deflecting blame onto “hostile foreign forces” and other straw men, the spirit of the protests lives on—not only in the slogans, artwork, poetry, videos, and songs, but also in the heightened awareness and forged connections that link a diverse group of protesters with the confidence to voice their demands, and the compassion to listen to the experiences of others.

“Voices of Protest” is a tribute to them all. The translated transcript of the video appears below:

November 24, 2022

After a deadly fire in a residential building in Urumqi, Xinjiang, spontaneous protests on a scale rarely seen in mainland China erupted in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and other cities.

Students from the Nanjing Institute of Communication, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and other Chinese universities held on-campus protests. They were soon joined by a wave of demonstrations held in solidarity by overseas Chinese residents and overseas Chinese exchange students.

[Footage of a brief portion of Xi Jinping’s two-hour speech at the 20th Party Congress in Beijing on October 15, 2022]:

In responding to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, we put the people and their lives above all else, […] and tenaciously pursued a dynamic zero-Covid policy. In launching an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus […]

Title: “Voices of Protest”

Background music: protest song “If You Won’t Take the Lead

If you won’t take the lead, please join the crowd

If you won’t join the crowd, please take our side

If you won’t take our side, please shout online

If you won’t shout online, please close your eyes,

Sit back and enjoy the rights we’ve earned for you

But don’t mock us, or turn a blind eye

Because the sunlight we fought for and won

belongs to everyone

 

October 13, 2022

After the protest on Beijing’s Sitong Bridge, Chinese students at home and abroad expressed their support.

[Photos of protest banners hung from Sitong Bridge. The banners read: “We want food, not COVID tests; reform, not Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. To be citizens, not slaves,” and “Boycott classes. Boycott work. Depose the traitorous despot Xi Jinping.”]

[Photos of handwritten protest slogans reproduced on walls, doors, and in public toilets]

[Photo collage of protest posters and flyers from various universities around the world]

 

November 25, 2022

Residents in Urumqi, Xinjiang, took to the streets to demand an end to the lockdown.

Residents shouting: End the lockdown! End the lockdown!

 

November 26, 2022

A female student at the Nanjing Institute of Communication protested by standing silently and holding a blank sheet of paper. After a man came up and confiscated her paper, she continued standing in silence, empty-handed.

 

Observer: Why did you take her piece of paper?

Man: What power does a blank piece of paper have?

Observer: Exactly, so why did you confiscate it?

 

November 26, 2022

The woman’s fellow students at the Nanjing Institute of Communication held a demonstration in support of her “blank paper protest,” and shouted the slogans: “Long live the People! Rest in peace!”

 

November 26, 2022

Students from the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts held a demonstration to protest the lockdown of their campus.

 

November 26, 2022

Student protesters at Sichuan International Studies University sang “The Internationale.”

Male student: What’s wrong with singing “The Internationale”? Is there a problem with that?

 

November 26, 2022

Peking University students sang “The Internationale” to protest lockdowns.

Protesters singing the Chinese lyrics to “The Internationale”: The blood in my chest has boiled over / We must fight for the truth!

 

November 26, 2022

Student protesters from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou sang “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies” [a 1993 Cantonese song by the Hong Kong band Beyond]. 

Protesters singing: It’s easy to give up your dreams / And even if someday, it’s just you and me …

 

November 26-27, 2022

Between the evening of November 26 to the early morning hours of November 27, 2022, protests took place at Shanghai’s Wulumuqi Road M (Urumqi Middle Road), and were violently suppressed by the police.

A large group of protesters gathered near the Urumqi Middle Road street sign, shouting: We want democracy, not dictatorship! We want democracy, not dictatorship!

Seen from a slightly different angle, protesters gathered near the Urumqi Middle Road street sign shout: Give me liberty or give me death! Give me liberty or give me death!

A small group of young people in the midst of a larger crowd sing the English lyrics to “Do You Hear the People Sing?”: When the beating of your heart / Echoes the beating of the drums / There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

As several lines of police officers look on, a large group of protesters shout: CCP step down! Xi Jinping step down!

A line of police officers in reflective vests and surgical masks stands face to face with the crowd, as a man shouts: The People’s Police should “Serve the People” and devote their skills to the nation instead of standing here besieging your own people! Serve the People! Why are you standing against the people?

Near a white police van, police officers scuffle with members of the crowd, who shout slogans demanding the release of detained protesters.

Crowd: Let them go! Let them go!

Man scuffling with officer: Fuck! You’ve got no right to arrest me!

Crowd: Let them go! Let them go!

Later, a group of workers took down the Urumqi Middle Road street sign and carried it away.

Male bystander: Why did they take down the street sign?  

 

November 27, 2022

In Shanghai, a man holding a bouquet of flowers went to Urumqi Middle Road to encourage everyone to “be brave,” after which he was forcibly arrested by the police.

Man [addressing the protesters and shaking his fist in the air]: We have to be brave! Am I committing a crime by bringing flowers? [He lowers his mask, and a policeman points at him to move aside.] Am I breaking the law? [The crowd cheers him on.] They won’t dare to arrest us.

 

November 27, 2022

In Beijing, after a female student protested by standing at the entrance to the Tsinghua University canteen and holding a blank sheet of A4 paper, Tsinghua students held an on-campus demonstration and shouted, “Democracy and rule of law! Freedom of expression!”

Black-clad man in face mask: Don’t film this.

Woman [off-screen; trying to film the female student with the A4 paper]: Why not? Why can’t I film it? 

[The man raises his hand and approaches her in a threatening manner.]

Woman [backing away]: All right, all right!

A large crowd of Tsinghua University protesters shout: Democracy and rule of law! Freedom of expression!

Female protester speaking to the crowd: If we’re … so afraid of being arrested that we don’t speak out, then I think our People will be disappointed in us.

Female protester shouting to the crowd: From this day forward, I’ll no longer suck off the powers that be! 

 

November 27, 2022

At Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, Sichuan province, students gathered to mourn the victims of the fire in Urumqi, and demanded “Democracy, rule of law, and freedom of expression.”

A somber group of students shout: Democracy and rule of law! Freedom of expression!

 

November 27, 2022

In Beijing, students at Renmin University marched through campus, demanding an end to the lockdown.

Students shouting: End the lockdown! End the lockdown! End the lockdown!

 

November 27, 2022

In Wuhan, citizens marched through the streets, dismantling fences and barricades along the way. Local authorities dispatched police to suppress the protests.

Woman, observing the protesters below, from a high window: Are you seeing this? They’re tearing down barricades everywhere.

[Street-level images of a police van driving slowly through a crowd.]

 

November 27, 2022

In Chengdu, citizens protested by holding up blank sheets of paper and shouting slogans. Local authorities dispatched police to suppress the protests.

Crowd shouting: Give me liberty or give me death!

Woman facing off with a row of masked police officers: You can’t face me, can you? Do you dare look me in the eye? Do you dare? Do you? Do you have any idea how badly people have suffered during these lockdowns? Do you even know?

Man in the crowd: Why did you become cops in the first place?

Huge crowd shouting: Reopen the country! Stop mass COVID-testing!

[People start cursing and shouting as police try to break up the protest.]

 

November 27, 2022

In Chengdu, a female protester made a speech: “Without the support of the people, you’re nothing but a hammer!”

Woman giving a speech to the crowd: If not for the people, where would you be? Without the support of the people, you’re nothing! [The crowd cheers.] Nothing but a hammer!

 

November 27, 2022

In Guangzhou, citizens held a protest in Haizhu Square and sang “Glory Days,” a classic political anthem [dedicated to Nelson Mandela] by the Hong Kong band Beyond.

A large crowd, holding candles and singing: A lifetime of setbacks and struggles, but you had faith you could change the future—who else could have done that?

 

November 27, 2022

In Beijing, residents held a “blank paper protest” at Liangma Bridge, and passing cars honked their horns in support.

A large crowd, holding blank sheets of paper and chanting the slogan: We want freedom, not COVID tests!

 

November 27, 2022

Beijing residents demonstrated in support of Shanghai’s Urumqi Middle Road protesters.

Crowd: Stay strong, Shanghai! Release the Shanghai protesters!

 

November 27, 2022

Two protesters in Beijing scoff at unfounded accusations of “foreign forces” meddling in the protests.

Man [shouting angrily]: By “foreign forces,” are you referring to Marx and Engels?!

Man [more calmly]: Excuse me, but was that fire in Xinjiang set by “foreign forces?” Was that bus in Guizhou overturned by “foreign forces?”

Man two [grabbing the loudspeaker]: Were all of you summoned here by “foreign forces?”

Crowd roars: No!

Man two: We can’t even access the foreign internet! Where would these “foreign forces” have come from? How would they even get in touch with us?

Another man: We only have “domestic forces” who want to keep us from gathering!

 

November 27, 2022

In Kunming and Dali, Yunnan province, people pasted blank sheets of paper on their clothes and guitars, and marched through the streets singing protest songs.

[A young couple stroll through an alley singing, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”]

Marchers strumming guitars sing “The Internationale”: Arise, you prisoners of starvation! Arise, you wretched of the earth!

 

November 27, 2022

Residents of Taipei, Taiwan, held a demonstration in Liberty Square in support of the mainland Chinese student protesters.

Demonstrators: All Chinese people, everywhere—stay strong!

 

November 27, 2022

Outside the Chinese embassy in London, England, Chinese students and overseas Chinese demonstrated in support of the protesters.

Crowd [holding signs and shouting]: We want freedom! We want democracy! Long live human rights!

 

November 27, 2022

In Glasgow, Scotland, Chinese students held a memorial to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire.

[Images of flowers, candles, and handwritten signs of support.]

 

November 27, 2022

In Paris, France, Chinese students and overseas Chinese demonstrated in support of the Chinese protests.

Crowd singing: Do You Hear the People Sing? / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!

 

November 28, 2022

A lone, black-clad protester in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, walked down a street with her hands in chains, a piece of black tape over her mouth, and holding a blank white piece of paper.

[Video footage of the silent protester walking down the street, with passersby observing.]

 

November 28, 2022

Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) held up blank papers in support of the protest.

[Video footage of a large group of students holding up blank A4 papers to their faces.]

 

November 28, 2022

Citizens in Hong Kong’s Central District held up blank white papers to mourn the victims of the fire in Urumqi. Hong Kong police arrived at the scene to record the participants’ information.

[Video footage of a police officer raising a small video camera overhead to film the faces of several silent protesters.]

 

November 28, 2022

In Hangzhou, a resident with a bouquet of chrysanthemums was surrounded by police, who confiscated his bouquet. Citizens protesting in front of a shopping mall were arrested by the police.

[Video footage of a man surrounded by police. A white-suited officer in PPE snatches the man’s bouquet of flowers, and an argument ensues.]

[Footage of police and protesters scuffling and arguing in front of a shopping mall]

Woman [crying]: The police are beating people!

 

November 28, 2022

Protesters shouted slogans outside the Chinese consulate in Toronto, Canada.

Crowd shouting: Chinese people, stay strong! Chinese people, revolt! Give me liberty or give me death! CCP, step down! 

 

November 28, 2022

In Sydney, Australia, Chinese students and overseas Chinese demonstrated in support of the Urumqi Middle Road protesters.

Crowd shouting: Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!

 

November 29, 2022

In the U.S., protesters gathered outside the Chinese Consulate General in New York to demonstrate in support of China’s protesters.

Protesters displaying posters and shouting: Allow public mourning! End the “zero-COVID” policy! Release our fellow activists! Ensure the people’s rights! We stand with our Chinese compatriots!

 

November 29, 2022

Chinese students at Columbia University held a protest and shouted the slogan, “CCP, step down!”

A large crowd of protesters, waving posters and banners, and shouting: CCP, step down!

 

 November 29, 2022

A Chinese student from Columbia University gave a speech to a crowd of demonstrators: “We are the orphans of Tiananmen Square.”

Student giving a speech to the crowd:

We are the orphans of Tiananmen Square

We are the seedlings that sprout after the brushfire

We are those sunk at the bottom of the Yangtze River

We are those buried under that passenger train 

We are the “ulterior motives” aboard that bus in Guizhou

We are the “destroyers of social stability” during that fire in Urumqi

We are the “low-end population” wandering through an age of prosperity

We are the “foreign forces” shouting in a darkened room

 

November 29, 2022

Student protesters at the University of California, Berkeley: “We are all foreign forces!”

Student one: No one organized this.

Student two: There are no “foreign forces!”

Student one: There are no “foreign forces,” none of us are. 

Student three: All of us!

Several students, chiming in: Yes, all of us are [“foreign forces”]!

 

November 29, 2022

Chinese students at Harvard University held up blank sheets of paper during a protest, and shouted: “No more censorship!”

Student protesters: No more censorship! No more propaganda!

 

November 29, 2022

Chinese students at Cambridge University held a protest and shouted the slogan: “Xi Jinping, step down!”

Student protesters: Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down! Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!

 

November 30, 2022

Chinese students and overseas Chinese gathered in Seoul, South Korea to support Chinese protesters.

Demonstrators shouting: We stand with our compatriots!

 

November 30, 2022

Chinese students and overseas Chinese in Tokyo, Japan, demonstrated in support of Chinese protesters.

A man [wearing a white plastic mask to obscure his features] speaking to the crowd: This gathering here—what’s it called? Freedom. All these different people expressing different opinions—what’s that called? Freedom.

 

December 4, 2022

Students at Wuhan University protested unreasonable COVID control measures, and demanded an open and public decision-making process and more information transparency.

Protesters shouting: A public process! Information transparency! A public process! Information transparency!

 

December 5, 2022

Students at Nanjing Tech University held a protest in opposition to a campus lockdown.

Student: Your authority derives from us students. It isn’t inherent to you! [crowd cheers]

 

December 6, 2022

At a student protest at Zhejiang University, a student from Xinjiang gave a speech.

Student from Xinjiang: I’m from Xinjiang. I just got here after more than 100 days of lockdown. In a temporary field hospital in Xinjiang, I wasn’t able to take a shower for 14 days. Do you call that “human dignity?” [crowd applauds]

 

December 10, 2022

Student protesters at Chongqing Medical University demanded that administrators give fair consideration to the students’ reasonable demands.

Students shouting: No more arbitrary lockdowns! Hear our reasonable demands!

 

December 10, 2022 – International Human Rights Day

Chinese students and overseas Chinese held protests in London, Amsterdam, Toronto, and other cities.

Woman speaking through a loudspeaker: 

Can you truly remain indifferent?

Can you truly stand to look the other way?

You and me, you and he, you and us—

We’re all crammed onto the same bus bound for hell

And the direction of that bus, the steering wheel, has never been in our hands.

 

December 7, 2022

China’s State Council issued the “Ten New Guidelines.”

No longer was there any mention of “tenaciously pursuing a dynamic zero-Covid policy.”

[Still images of A4 protests and of protesters being suppressed by the police.]

New measures included:

  • Various forms of temporary closures and controls must not be employed.
  • Proof of negative nucleic acid tests and health codes will no longer be checked for cross-regional migrants. 
  • Asymptomatic infected persons and mild cases who are able to isolate at home are normally to be quarantined at home.

Protests have continued in Chongqing, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Fujian, and other areas.

Overseas students and other Chinese individuals living abroad continue to explore various ways to express solidarity with the protesters in mainland China.

May China soon be free.

This video is dedicated to all of the protesters.

Credits:

The background music for this video is the song, “If You Won’t Take the Lead.”

The copyright of all works in this video compilation belong to the original creators.

China Digital Times only archives original works in order to fight against China’s online censorship. [Chinese]

 

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