They Are Not Our Enemies: Policy Over Power

On November 24, 2022, a fire struck an isolated high-rise apartment in Urumqi, China. According to CNN, ten were reported dead, and an additional nine were injured—all because too many minutes had elapsed until the firemen removed the looming barricades, which were in place due to the country’s Zero-Covid policy. In the days following, large-scale protests regarding the situation broke out, yet rather than speaking against the Zero-Covid policy itself, many attacked the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its leader, Xi Jinping, calling for a revolution. 

As an international boarding student from Shanghai, China, I am proud to see voices finally being projected towards the detriments of China’s lockdown. But I urge them to unite and speak against the Covid-19 protocols, instead of the CCP. Though I am not a Chinese citizen, as I was born in California, I still wish to return home. Revolting against the government will cause as much turmoil as the Zero-Covid policy has caused. Opposing the policy itself may more efficiently lead to change.

Throughout its implementation, the Zero-Covid policy acted as a quarantine countdown that would essentially force an entire region into lockdown with every new case discovered. In Urumqi, the fire broke out on the 110th day of quarantine. Unused vehicles lined up the driveways, creating distance that prevented water from the firehose from reaching the flames. Even doors were locked from the outside, causing the residents to be trapped in their units. 

Amidst the protests, there were countless exclamations demanding the CCP to step down and calling for the resignation of Xi.

However, I believe that the protesters’ targeting of the CCP was impulsive and short-sighted. Considering that Xi has been in power for nearly ten years and it is not typical of the Chinese government to respond to citizens’ protests, change is unlikely to begin with. In the event of a drastic political change, the Chinese citizens themselves will likely be most affected by the tumultuous transition period. Even if change does occur, future ruling positions are usually reserved and adapting to a system-wide change would become the real challenge. If the people were to get what they protested for—that is, having CCP or Xi step down and lifting all the Covid-19 protocols—instead of rejoicing in freedom, I predict that there will be chaos and fear. The frightening image of Covid-19 the government has painted in citizens for the past three years would submerge them in terror as they inevitably see an exponential increase in cases. What branches from that might be freedom—but also chaos. On the other hand, freedom, albeit regulated by the government, can be derived from small changes. Those steps can be taken by speaking against one policy at a time.

This is also one of very few instances where citizens have harshly criticized the government en-masse. Reality shows that despite their efforts, the power still belongs to the ruling party. 

I may not be in China, but many of my friends still are. Sophia Gong ’26, a student at Shanghai American School and an active voice in the movement, described how in the face of resistance, the CCP still has substantial control on health codes and personal lives of citizens in Shanghai. 

“To stop these protests, the government is tracking down the people who take part in the protests from videos online and security camera footage, and they’re using facial recognition to track them. They’re tracking down these people and turning their health codes red so they can’t go anywhere. If your health code is red, they won’t let you in anywhere. You can’t go on the subway, you can’t take a cab. For some matter, even though these protests are happening, the government still has a lot of control…over the people,” said Gong. 

Despite my critique on their methods, I still admire the protestors’ persistence. They have proven to be strong in the face of hardship, as Lilian Cai, an Instructor in Chinese, noted. 

“With oppression, there will be resistance, and my people have been a people of resistance for thousands of years…They are incredibly resilient,” wrote Cai in an email to The Phillipian. 

I acknowledge that I’m not a Chinese citizen, and that can change my stake in the protests compared to those who are. Nevertheless, Shanghai will always be the place I call home. Like much of the international community, I rarely get the opportunity to fly back, and right now, I face the likelihood of not returning for years because of China’s Covid-19 restrictions. Restrictions that should’ve been altered a long time ago. 

Therefore, I also wish for a change to occur—but more specifically a change that will bring China back to where it was prior to the pandemic: an environment where reasonable policies were established, both generally and particularly pertaining to public safety. An environment where people lived safely and with bodily autonomy. Not an environment wrestling with abrupt political changes. 

Attacking the CCP is shortsighted. A revolution is not likely to take place, but if it does, its aftermath may be even worse.

So as people raise their blank sheets of paper to participate in the A4 revolution, may they have in mind that the CCP is not their enemy. The Zero-Covid-19 policy is.