Beijing “Bridge Man” protest

A rare public protest was staged on October 13 in Beijing’s Haidian District by a man later identified as Pang Lifa (彭立发, aka online alias Peng Zaizhou 彭载舟). Peng burned tires, thereby setting off black smoke, and unfurled banners on a busy traffic overpass. Video and images on social media showed one banner calling Xi Jinping a dictator as well as calling for him to be removed. Another banner had slogans protesting the zero-Covid policy, lockdowns, and mass testing while calling for nationwide labor and school strikes. The incident occurred just days before the 20th National People’s Congress where Xi retained his position as China’s paramount leader for another five years.

Peng’s current whereabouts are unclear after he was seen being taken into a police car in a video circulating on Twitter. Following the incident, “emergency bridge watchers” were hastily dispatched to guard highway and pedestrian overpasses around Beijing to prevent similar protests.

Peng’s actions quickly inspired other acts of protest in the capital and other parts of the country. Posters made with Peng’s messages were found in a film museum in Beijing. In the northern city of Xi’an, graffiti in a public restroom called on Xi to step down. Photos posted on social media show numerous images of graffiti, slogans on walls, and messages in other public places against zero-COVID. Some overseas students also took inspiration from the protest, putting up posters and voicing support for the “bridge warrior.” Such acts have reportedly led to police pressuring the students’ families. A student studying in the United States claimed that his family was visited by police in Beijing, and they were told to silence him after he criticized the government. Hong Kong police detained a man from the mainland, surname Shi 石, for incitement, accusing him posting three A4 size posters with subversive messages at a public protest area outside of Legco.

Police acted swiftly to suppress the circulation of news about Peng and similar acts of defiance. In Kunming, dissident Xu Kun (徐昆) was summoned for questioning. He was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on October 14 after publishing blog posts in which he called the “Beijing Bridge Man” a true hero. A state security officer issued warnings to Xu not to repeat the same offense. Since October 16, retired teacher Gu Guoping (顾国平) has been held incommunicado after Shanghai police detained him for retweeting photos and videos about Peng and posters in Xi’an. Wang Wei (王威), who completed his prison sentence in Guangdong in July was reportedly held in a form of secret detention known as “liuzhi 留置” in his home province Henan on October 16 after posting information about Peng. Liuzhi is a coercive measure typically used by procuratorate or disciplinary commission when investigating corruption or dereliction of duty.

China’s censoring organs have gone into overdrive in attempts to erase all signs of Peng and his messages. Obscure characters and phrases are censored online. Thousands of WeChat and Weibo accounts and groups were reportedly suspended for unwittingly sharing the images of banners. Printing shops near universities were told to suspend all self-service, and staff must check the content of all copy orders.

Using economic crimes against house churches

The government is increasingly charging members of house churches, which operate outside of state control, with fraud and other economic crimes.

Following several incidents Dui Hua reported in August 2022, websites such as Wei Quan Wang (维权网) recorded that similar actions have been taken against house churches around the country since early 2021.

In addition to previous reports on Liang Changnian and his son Liang Xuliang in Xi’an, Shaanxi, and Li Jie and Hang Xiaodong in Linfen, Shanxi, ten other pastors and clergy members from three house churches were arrested by authorities between March and November 2021:

  • Zhang Chunlei (张春雷) of the Guiyang Renai Guizhen Church in Guizhou Province has been in custody since March 2021;
  • Pastor Wang Xiaoguan (王晓光) and his wife Yang Rongli (杨荣丽) of the Linfen Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province have been in custody since August 2021; five other church members Li Shuangping (李双平), Dong Yongyong (董勇勇), Zhao Guoai (赵国爱), Huo Zhuangping (霍壮平), and Wu Ling’e (吴玲娥) were also detained;
  • Hao Ming (郝鸣) and Wu Jiannan (武见男) of the Deyang Qingcaodi Church in Sichuan Province have been in custody since November 2021.

All fourteen people have reportedly been investigated for fraud. Authorities often accuse house churches’ fundraising activities — such as venue leasing, carrying out repairs, and running youth camps — of violating rules and laws.

Illegal business activity is another common economic crime used against individuals of house churches. In October 2022, media sources reported that pastor Yang Jianxin (杨建新), a member of a house church in Henan, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in the summer of 2021 by the Lingbao City People’s Court. Yang was accused of purchasing Bibles and other Christian books from a printing shop that operated without appropriate licenses. Yang lodged an appeal to the Sanmenxia Intermediate People’s Court to no avail. Yang is scheduled for release from Lingbao Prison in July 2026.