This series (#14 to 17) of Dui Hua’s Mass Incident Monitor highlights four major protests that took place across China in relation to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19, was under lockdown from January 23 to April 8. Hubei province was also under lockdown for more than one month. Other Chinese cities implemented traffic restrictions and around-the-clock “closed off management,” where residents of a community must be registered before they are allowed in or out. Many of these protests were triggered by the expansive and draconian quarantine measures put in place to contain the outbreak.

On March 12, residents in Xiaogan gathered to protest against overpriced food during stay-at-home order. Image credit: Sina

“Fake! Fake! Everything is fake!” Local residents in Wuhan were heard shouting through apartment windows in online videos when Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan was inspecting the work of a neighborhood committee tasked with taking care of quarantined residents on March 6. The property management company was accused by the residents of arranging employees who disguised themselves as volunteers to deliver groceries during Sun’s visit. On March 10, Xi Jinping made his first visit to virus-hit Wuhan after more than a month after the lockdown. Police officers were reportedly stationed inside apartments to prevent residents from heckling Xi.

Two days after Xi’s visit to Wuhan, aggrieved residents in Xiaogan gathered to protest against overpriced food as they were forced to comply with the stay-at-home order (Xiaogan is a city in Hubei around 70 kilometers from Wuhan). From February 14 to late March, the Xiaogan government prohibited all residents from leaving their homes, lest they be subjected to administrative detention for up to 15 days. Government-designated companies and organizations distributed daily necessities including food supplies and banned private sales of the kind.

Residents complained about food price inflation, with some accusing government-designated suppliers of profiteering during the pandemic. A resident who sold groceries to his neighbors at a lower price than government-designated suppliers was detained by police for “illegal private transactions” on March 12. On the same day, over a hundred residents in the community gathered at a basketball court to demand release of the detained resident. The Chinese word xiake, an equivalent to “stepping down,” can be heard being chanted from the crowds, but it is unclear who they were targeting. According to the Xiaogan government, the crowds left after officials arrived at the scene. The detained resident was subsequently released. The government also announced that it would lower food prices, introduce competition among suppliers, and provide additional subsidies to suppliers.

Officials were criticized for disregarding public health needs and people’s livelihoods during the curfew-like lockdown. A day after Xi’s visit, Wuhan residents quarreled with officials who used sanitary trucks to deliver packs of raw meat on March 11. Similar incidents occurred all over the city: residents were outraged to see online images of food supplies getting delivered by sanitart trucks, sanitary trolleys, construction trolleys, and even ambulances. The party officials in the residential community were fired the following day.