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‘New Tankman’: Rare Beijing protest muddles Xi Jinping’s moment

A one-man protest in Beijing has called for elections, an end to the country’s strict ‘zero covid’ policy and the removal of ‘dictator’ Xi Jinping, in a rare display of political discord that was met with a spate of online censorship days prior at a major political rally expected to extend Xi’s rule for another five years.

“We want to eat, not do coronavirus tests; reform, not the Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, no rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not enslaved people,” read the red handwritten lettering on large white banners hung on Sitong Bridge in the city’s northwest around noon local time Thursday, according to photos and videos of the banners being widely distributed. were shared online.

A second banner read: “Remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.” Pedestrians nearby stopped to read the banners and stare at a plume of black smoke from a fire lit on the bridge by the person who appeared to be dressed in a construction worker’s yellow helmet and orange jacket, according to videos of the incident.

Some images appeared to show the person being taken away by police, although there was no official confirmation of an arrest Friday. The Haidian District Public Security Bureau hung up when The Washington Post called.

Xi Jinping’s Quest for Total Control of China Is Just Beginning

Intolerant of criticism of top leaders at the best of times, the Chinese Communist Party is currently wary as the country’s top 2,300 politicians arrive in the capital for a congress held every five years. For Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, the meeting is expected to be a moment of triumph as he disrupts the previous convention to stay on for more than two terms as party leader.

On Chinese social media, censors fought with users trying to share information about the protest, greatly limiting the number of posts visible. Search results for terms as common as “Beijing,” “Haidian,” or “Sitong” returned far fewer entries than usual and only from officially verified accounts.

Some users tried to get around the restrictions by referencing the incident obliquely – a common practice of censorship evasion. Some posted a song titled “The Brave” or spoke of a “single spark” in reference to a famous revolutionary essay by Mao Zedong titled “a single spark can start a prairie fire”.

The insurgent act was praised by Chinese dissidents and overseas human rights activists, many of whom compared the protester to “tankman,” the unidentified man who faced Chinese soldiers on Chang’an Boulevard on June 5, 1989. China’s high-tech authoritarianism means activists can only operate in the “lone warrior” mode, Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer now living in the United States, wrote on Twitter.

Xi’s focus on national security and “social stability” has severely limited the space for dissent in China. The latest generation of Chinese human rights and democracy activists have found it increasingly difficult to meet privately or exchange ideas, let alone stage a serious uprising against Communist Party rule.

Security in the capital is usually highest during major political events such as the upcoming congress. Dissidents living in Beijing are often taken to distant parts of the country by keepers, and more and more checks are demanded for people entering the city. This year, China’s continued strict covid controls have added a layer of travel restrictions and surveillance.

On Friday, police were installed near prominent bridges across the city, according to photos posted online by residents.

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