‘We want freedom’: key quotes from China’s protests

China was gripped last weekend by widespread protests not seen in decades, with hundreds taking to the streets across the country to demand an end to crippling Covid lockdowns.

Originally triggered by the deaths of ten people in a Xinjiang fire — deaths protesters blame on Covid lockdowns — they have expanded to call for greater political freedoms, an end to state censorship, and even the resignation of President Xi Jinping.

Here are some of the key quotes from the movement, translated from footage of protests across China circulating on social media, which has been verified by AFP.

– Young woman, Beijing –
“After the crowd surge happened in South Korea, all media reported so much on it in the second day. But let’s take a look, do we have any reports from the official media? Our own citizens and nationals died in a man-made disaster, do we have any reports?”

“No, it’s all lies! All silence! All is silent! So we launched a white paper mourning campaign. Is there anything on the paper? No, all the accusations are in our hearts, all the mourning is in our hearts!”

“We want the lockdown to be lifted, fire exits unblocked, passages of life unblocked, we want people’s voices to be heard, we want to mourn our own citizens.”

– Student, Tsinghua University –
“If we dare not speak out because we are afraid of being discredited, I think our people will be disappointed with us.”

“As a student of Tsinghua University, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

– Young men, Beijing –
(Talking about the accusation that foreign forces are behind the protests): “May I ask if the foreign forces you are talking about are Marx and Engels? Is it Stalin? Is it Lenin? Was the fire in Xinjiang started by foreign forces?”

“We can’t even access the Internet abroad! Where did we get foreign forces from? How do foreign forces communicate with us? We only have forces within our borders to prevent us from gathering!”

“We will always support the Communist Party. But we want democracy, we want freedom. Are these two contradictory?”

“The Communist Party was the vanguard of democracy and freedom. We just want the democratic, free, and open Communist Party back. That’s all.”

– Protesters, Shanghai –
“Down with the Communist Party! Down with Xi Jinping!”

“Open up Wulumuqi! Open up Xinjiang! Open up China!”

– Young woman, Chengdu –
“Why do we have to be afraid when we tell the truth? In the past two days, I have been posting on WeChat and Douyin, but all my friends have told me: be careful, be careful that you don’t get caught.”

“Why not let the people tell the truth? Why? Our government says that we are a socialist country with people’s democracy, and our citizens have basic rights, such as freedom of procession, demonstration, and speech, but do they really have them?”

“Do we? We can’t touch upon any slightest sensitive political topics.”

“Now I know why other countries say that we have no human rights in China. I only realized at this time in 2022, do we really have human rights.

“Our great diplomats… tell foreigners how happy the Chinese people are, so, please take a look, are we happy now?”