A recent analysis by Freedom House found that despite increasingly repressive rule under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), dissent in China occurs “regularly and is geographically widespread.”
According to Freedom House’s China Dissent Monitor, 668 incidents of dissent were observed in the country from July to September this year.
“Among them, 636 cases (95 per cent) occurred offline, such as demonstrations, strikes, and occupations, while 32 cases (5 per cent) involved online dissent,” it said.
The report said the greatest number of events occurred in the provinces of Hebei (77), Henan (72), Guangdong (49) and Shaanxi (49).
What are people protesting about?
From nationwide protests by property owners to public anger over frequents lockdowns, there have been several instances of dissent in China.
According to the report, among all the documented cases, 214 (32 percent) involved delayed housing projects, 110 (17 percent) involved pay and benefits, and 106 (16 percent) involved fraud.
It found that there were 37 cases of dissent against Covid-19 restrictions, including large street demonstrations and online hashtag movements with hundreds of thousands of posts, linked to at least 14 provinces or directly administered cities.
The report found that the state used some form of repression in almost 25 per cent of these cases.
“Violence by state or nonstate actors against those engaged in dissent was the most frequent form of reprisal, occurring in 75 cases,” it said.
It found that property buyers’ dissent was met with far more repression than other groups, constituting nearly 50 per cent of cases of repression, though it is roughly in line with the proportion of property buyer-led protests.
“In contrast, faith groups currently only constitute 2 per cent of all dissent events in the database, but they suffer 6 percent of repression,” the report said.
First property, now Covid
Due to China’s deep real estate slump, numerous cash-strapped builders halted construction of projects, prompting large-scale protests from property buyers in the country.
Buyers also boycotted mortgage payments to pressurize banks and developers.
Moreover, since the report observed instances that occurred between July and September, the cases of dissent against the Covid pandemic would have likely risen since then.
In fact, it now appears that cases of dissent have now shifted from property buyers to people fed up with the frequent lockdowns.
Recently, some residents in Guangzhou, one of the country’s biggest cities, started staging rare protests against the stringent rules.
In videos circulating on social media, hundreds of people could be seen marching in the streets and pushing over police barriers in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, which has been in lockdown since late last month.
Chinese, particularly those in urban centers, are becoming increasingly agitated after almost three years of restrictions under the country’s Covid Zero policy.
Lockdowns are showing no sign of abating even as authorities ease some curbs.
Food shortages and difficulty getting timely medical treatment are some of the biggest complaints lodged by those locked into their homes to quell outbreaks.
Online dissent rising too
While most instances of dissent are offline, the report also found growing cases of public anger erupting on digital media.
According to the Freedom House analysis, citizens are increasingly using social media platforms to vent their frustration despite CCP’s concerted efforts to prevent the use of internet for any discussion it deems worthy of censorship.
The report said that 18 cases of online hashtag movements in which users criticized government or powerful private actors were documented during the study period.
The mortgage protest, which became a rare act of public disobedience in China, was pushed via social media in late June.
Even during the demonstrations in Guangzhou, a few posts discussing the protests — deemed riots by some — could be found on Weibo and WeChat, two of the largest social media platforms in China.
As of Tuesday morning, hashtags on Weibo such as “Guangzhou Haizhu district riot” and “Haizhu riot” remained visible, but posts which could previously be seen were gone.