Scholars look at ramifications from ‘zero COVID’ protests in China

Scholars look at ramifications from ‘zero COVID’ protests in China

The Center for the Study of Contemporary China, in co-sponsorship with Perry World House, held a forum to discuss the protests and what they mean for China and its citizens going forward.


Written by Kristen de Groot
Photography by Eric Sucar


Late last month protests erupted in several cities around China against the nation’s “zero COVID” policy and lockdowns. They were triggered by a deadly apartment fire that was difficult to quell due to lockdown measures. Soon, the protests—where participants held up blank sheets of paper to send their message without officially saying anything—became something broader, some even going as far as calling for the ouster of the Chinese Communist Party regime.

The Center for the Study of Contemporary China (CSCC), in co-sponsorship with Perry World House, held a forum to discuss the protests, which have now largely shut down due to crackdowns and arrests.

Seven CSCC scholars made opening remarks, followed by an audience Q&A session. The scholars included Jacques deLisle, CSCC director; Guobin Yang, Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology; Amy Gadsden, executive director of Penn China Initiatives; Hongshen Zhu, CSCC postdoctoral fellow; Neysun Mahboubi, CSCC research scholar; Jing Wang, senior research manager at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication; and Zoe Mengyang Zhao, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology.

DeLisle started off the panel by giving an overview of the current situation, citing government promises in the aftermath of the protests to relax COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ll see how that’s going to play out, given what I think most people would say is a dilemma between the need to relax ‘zero COVID’ because of the social oppressiveness and economic cost and on the other hand the fear of, if you take the lid off, it will cause some potentially significant public health problems,” he said, noting the low vaccination rate of the elderly, the limited capacity of the public health systems and hospitals, as well as the political costs for the regime, which had prided itself on keeping infection rates very low. “We’ll almost certainly see infection rates spike quite sharply.”

He turned the discussion over to the other participants to share their thoughts on the events.

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