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.

In March, shop tenants in multiple provinces demanded rent waivers for poor business conditions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Image credit: Intenet

After the end of the extended Lunar New Year Holidays on February 2, the Chinese government imposed entry and exit restrictions on all residential communities in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Shopping malls and public entertainment venues were shuttered. Some business owners struggled to make ends meet as they continued to pay regular expenses such as rent and wages even when their businesses were suspended. Although the situation appeared to have improved after the number of new cases of COVID-19 subsided in late February, customer flows continued to dip. Retail sales of consumer goods, a major indicator of consumption growth, plummeted by 20.5 percent for the first two months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Shop tenants from New China Mansion, one of the largest clothing wholesale markets in Guangzhou, marched to demand rent waivers from their landlords one day after the mall reopened on March 4. They also requested two months’ rent free because of the poor business conditions. The property development company offered a rent reduction plan, which was rejected by the protesters because only a small number of them could benefit. Video footage shows that uniformed security guards pepper sprayed and clashed with tenants. A day after the protest, the entire New China Mansion was guarded by police and security officers. On March 17, the property development company introduced another rent reduction plan to benefit all tenants. However, some tenants were reportedly unable to receive rent reductions because of subleases.

As more businesses resumed, similar protests occurred not only in Guangdong cities such as Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Zhongshan, and Dongguan, but also in the provinces of Liaoning, Guangxi and Sichuan. Landlords face additional demands from shop tenants. For example, dozens of tenants from Zhengzhou, Henan, took to the streets to demand rent exemption for an extended period of six months.

Due to limited news coverage, it is unclear how these protests were resolved.