Thursday, December 1, 2022
SHANGHAI — On Saturday night, the center of Shanghai was teeming with young people in bars drinking and watching the World Cup on wide-screen televisions. They were rooting for Argentina, which was facing off against Mexico. (The Chinese love Lionel Messi, Argentina’s star striker.)
Then, something happened.
The message started to spread—mostly on Wechat, China’s No. 1 chat app—that a few people were gathering and lighting candles on Urumqi Road, in the French Concession, which is full of high-end bakeries and eateries and Shanghai’s famous, three-story lane houses.
Urumqi Road takes its name from the capital of Xinjiang, where, two days before, at least 10 people had died in a fire in an apartment building. All of the dead were Uyghurs.
The central government in Beijing would prefer the Chinese people forget the Uyghurs exist. More than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been confined to so-called re-education camps; there have been forced sterilizations, forced labor, the forced teaching of Mandarin and the forced pledges of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The fire seemed like an unintended consequence of the central government’s policy, and it had been blamed, in part, on the regime’s zero Covid policy and its overzealous enforcement in Xinjiang. For 48 hours, an outcry had been building online, and now it was threatening to spring into real life.
In China, real-life demonstrations are okay if they’re not explicitly political. Workers protest against unpaid wages. Residents protest pollution coming from nearby power plants. But people don’t protest or march or get angry about whatever the president or party is doing.
Sadly, I believe this will end with Xi and the CCP cracking down hard on the demonstrators. In the short run, tyranny works. The PRC is the world's largest penal colony.