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Standing up to the iron fist of the party

By Chung Ching Kwong
Chung Ching Kwong is a democracy activist from Hong Kong.

The protest began last week as the citizens mourned those who died in a fire in Urumqi, a city in Xinjiang. The fire took 10 lives and seriously injured 9 people who were not able to leave the building as their doors had reportedly been locked from the outside by the Chinese authorities for quarantine-related reasons

Mourners began calling for the relaxation of COVID measures, chanting “no more lockdowns, no more PCR tests.” But as more and more people gathered on the streets, they started calling for the removal of Xi Jinping, the leader of the ruling party shouting “we need human rights, need freedom.” Since then the protests have spread like wildfire across the country.

The general perception of the Chinese people in the past was that they lacked political awareness and were unwilling to act on social issues. Although discontent has certainly been brewing for some time, under the sheer weight of three years of China’s harsh zero-COVID policy, nobody expected to see such a widespread manifestation of dissent. Aside from anything else, the authorities have worked very hard to keep information from the public: censoring or deleting online content, and churning out propaganda about China’s COVID success story.

But the people of China have not been deterred. Despite knowing what is to come, they have filled the streets. They know they will be subjected to a brutal crackdown or possibly worse. Yet still, they fill the streets. The force of the protests has been so overwhelming that some local authorities have even been forced to partially relax COVID measures.

There have been small and isolated protests and resistance in China in the past decades. After Li Wenlaing, the COVID whistleblower doctor, was hardly treated by the CCP, protests broke out two years ago. Some may remember the famous Guizhou bus overturning or the more recent hanging of anti-XI slogans from the XiTung Bridge before the recent Party Congress. Small things have accumulated, igniting the fire of resistance all across China.

Acceptance of the CCP depends on growth

For a long time, the people of China have accepted the CCP as their ruling party. They have had to be willing to trade away their freedoms. As long as business seemed to be doing OK, they have been content to keep quiet. For us Hong Kongers, it’s strange to see Mainlanders adopting a similar posture to our 2019 resistance. A common refrain from Chinese citizens during the 2019 Hong Kong protests was: “you ungrateful brats, on the payroll of foreign governments”. They could not understand why we would fight if there were no financial incentives, and hurled all kinds of insults towards us. For us, hearing Mainland Chinese calling for democracy and human rights, and demanding the resignation of Xi Jinping has always felt unthinkable.

But now, I am receiving messages from Chinese people on social media, apologizing for sending me harassment messages, and saying now they understand why we participate in activism and want democracy and freedom so desperately. There is a sense of sympathy and mutual understanding for the first time.

Among those of us at the sharp end of the CCP’s oppression, there’s a strong sense of righteous indignation. I have lost count of the number of journalists who doubted our cause, and even laughed at our efforts to stand up to the iron fist of the Communist Party. I have to fight the urge to send them videos of the courageous people of China. The totalitarian government of China will only end when the Chinese people demand it, and the fact they have started to do so fills me with hope and awe.

Admiring courage is not enough

But admiring their courage isn’t enough. We are about to see a massive effort to suppress these people. We may even see a repeat of Tiananmen. As ever, democratic nations are completely unprepared. What are we going to do when Xi’s army rolls in to crush these brave voices demanding their rights? Are we just going to watch passively as they are interned in their thousands, and disappeared?

Time is short. We need our leaders to come together preemptively to agree on a sanctions package designed to deter a brutal crackdown, and to protect and defend those who are fighting for their fundamental rights.

In 1989 the world watched the Tiananmen Massacre unfold. In 2019 the world watched when China stole Hong Kong, in flagrant violation of international law. Will we watch passively as the hope for a free China is brutally extinguished? We must act before it is too late.

Chung Ching Kwong (previously also known as Glacier Kwong) is a civil rights activist from Hong Kong who has been living in exile in Germany since the democratic parties were eliminated.

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