This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Angered by a nationwide ban on fireworks in cities, crowds in the central Chinese province of Henan attacked and overturned a police vehicle late Monday, while social media posts showed residents in other cities setting off fireworks in defiance of the orders.
Revelers on Hongdaoyuan Square in Henan’s Luyi County “deliberately vandalized a police car … causing chaos at the scene,” police said in a statement on the standoff, which it said took place at around 11.00 p.m. local time on Jan. 2. Six people were arrested.
Several video clips of the incident were uploaded to social media that showed people jumping onto a police car and another man in a Balenciaga jacket displaying the police car license plate he had ripped from the vehicle to the surrounding crowd.
The incident was sparked by police trying to enforce a fireworks ban, which led some in the crowd to prevent the police car from leaving and others to throw drinks and start smashing it, before the most visible protesters jumped onto the car and removed its license plates.
A later video clip showed the police car overturned, according to the Twitter account “Mr Li is not your teacher,” which curates and reposts video footage from incidents in mainland China to Twitter, on the assumption that they will be deleted or blocked by Chinese social media platforms.
Jia Lingmin, a resident of Henan’s provincial capital Zhengzhou, said fireworks have been banned until Lunar New Year, which starts later this month, but that there were plenty going off around the city on the New Year’s weekend.
“There have been sporadic fireworks going off in my neighborhood, and the surrounding area,” Jia said. “[The ban] will be lifted at some point during Lunar New Year.”
Fireworks set off in defiance of the ban were also reported in Guangxi, Shandong, and Chongqing, according to social media posts.
Political commentator Wang Jian said the fireworks were a deliberate act to defy the ban, and came after people saw the government’s response to the “white paper” movement in late November against strict anti-virus measures.
“People across the country are violating the ban,” Wang said. “Fireworks are banned in all cities, but are being set off everywhere.”
Spontaneous street protests across China in late November saw some people holding up blank sheets of printer paper and others repeating slogans calling for an end to the zero-COVID policy, and for Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to step down and call elections, while others held vigils for the victims of a lockdown fire in Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi.
“It’s another revolution, or at least passing on the torch [lit by the white paper movement],” Wang said. “The Chinese have learned that they can use protest to get what they want, which is a huge improvement on the way things were.”
Letting off steam
In another clip posted to Twitter by constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan, a young woman is shown setting off rockets using a launch tube in the northern port city of Tianjin.
“The police came to stop them, but they didn’t listen, and everyone set them off,” Zhang commented.
“So are you going to do anything?” reads the text added to the video. “No, because you can’t do anything. There are fireworks going off everywhere.”
Henan current affairs commentator Li Fatian said Henan is a part of China that likes traditional celebrations, and were likely letting off steam after three years of rolling lockdowns, mass tracking and compulsory testing under Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy.
“Zero-COVID went on for three years, so it’s … pretty clear that the lockdowns across the country, large-scale unemployment and the inhumane enforcement methods of recent years have caused a lot of anxiety and shortness of temper,” Li said. “There’s a lot of hostility in society.”
“Now, the government suddenly removes all restrictions and people still fear dying from this virus, so maybe they need to do this as a way of venting,” he said, adding that more protests are likely in the coming year.
“We’ve reached what you might call a tipping point,” Li said.
In Nanjing, people let fly balloons in the eastern city of Nanjing on New Year’s Eve, where a large crowd gathered around the bronze statue of 1911 revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen to release balloons in honor of his memory.
While Sun is revered in mainland China as the revolutionary leader who toppled the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), mass public honoring of that revolution is largely discouraged by Beijing, as it is too closely associated with the Kuomintang nationalist government who were defeated by Mao Zedong’s communists during the civil war (1946-1949).
Video clips showed eyewitnesses exclaiming at the size of the crowd, which effectively shut down nearby streets, blocking traffic, as they poured into the area to pay tribute to Sun, who has been dubbed the father of modern China.
“There has been a sea change in people’s hearts, with this commemoration of Sun Yat-sen,” former Communist Party school lecturer Cai Xia tweeted of the scenes. “This event is deeply meaningful.”
Wang agreed with Li that more protests look likely in 2023.
“When the Chinese Communist Party can no longer guarantee that everyone’s life will improve, nor guarantee a livelihood to many people, then people will start to challenge it, because what right does it have to remove your political rights?” Wang said.
“The Communist Party has broken the social contract, so they don’t have to obey it anymore.”