Chinese censors yesterday scrubbed from the internet the manifesto of a protester who called for people to revolt by smashing Covid testing centres as President Xi Jinping delivers a highly-anticipated speech on Sunday.
The author of the manifesto is believed to be a protester who was arrested on Thursday after hanging two banners on a bridge calling for democratic reforms and the resignation of Xi. He has been hailed as a new “tank man”, referring to the famous image of a man blocking a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square.
His bold protest came just days before the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress on Sunday, where Xi is expected to become the first leader to be given a third term since Mao Zedong.
The president is expected to open the congress with a televised speech where he will outline broad-brush priorities for the next five years. It marks the beginning of a months-long process of personnel change at the top of the party and government.
The protest has sparked an intense censorship drive at a tense moment for Beijing.
Despite widespread discussion of the event among Chinese and international users on Twitter, which is banned in China, any mention of it is practically non-existent on the heavily-censored Chinese internet.
Photos and videos related to the event were quickly scrubbed, and a large number of online users reportedly had their accounts frozen on WeChat – China’s version of WhatsApp – after posting or discussing the protest.
Many have praised the bravery of the protestor, calling him a “hero”, a “warrior” and the “new tank man”.
But these terms and others related to the incident – even those as broad as “Beijing” – were quickly censored.
A song titled Sitong Bridge, released in 2021 by the Chinese rock band Biuya, which coincidentally has the same name as the bridge where the demonstration took place, was taken down by China’s Spotify, QQ music, on Friday.
Other songs containing censored words, including “The Brave One” by Taiwanese rock band No Party For Cao Dong and “Warrior of the Darkness” by Hong Kong singer Eason Chan, were also restricted.
Internet users concerned about the man’s fate attempted to identify him, focusing on a man who has a background in physics and is a partner at a Beijing technology company.
He had posted what appeared to be a manifesto on the popular research site ResearchGate, which was later taken down.
Reposted copies of the manifesto suggest he called for strikes, votes and reforms starting on Sunday – including raising banners, burning car tires, honking car horns in crowded areas and smashing Covid testing stations, which have been a source of discontent for Chinese citizens facing brutal lockdowns. The author argued for basic rights for China’s population, writing: “China is the China of all Chinese people, not Xi Jinping’s China, not the private property of dictators.”
He also used a quote from Soviet dissident and novelist Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, which reads: “We know they are lying, they know they are lying, they know we know they are lying, we know they know we know they are lying, but they are still lying.”
If the author of the manifesto is the same man who was arrested, he is likely to face many years in jail.
Two Twitter accounts believed to belong to the man also disappeared on Thursday.
China is holding its 20th party congress on Sunday. The authorities have tightened their already strict censorship processes ahead of the politically sensitive event. Government volunteers have been deployed in every neighbourhood to report anything out of the ordinary.
On Friday, photos showed guards attending different bridges in Beijing, as a measure to prevent copycat protests.