Hong Kong media have remained largely muted on a rare protest in Beijing that called for the ousting of China’s leader Xi Jinping ahead of the historic 20th Communist Party congress. The meeting, a once-in-every-five-years event, is set to begin on Sunday and will likely see Xi secure an unprecedented third term.
On Thursday, reports emerged on the mainland that two banners had been draped across Sitong bridge – an overpass in the capital’s Haiding district. One of the banners, according to online images, called on people to go on strike to “oust the dictator, traitor Xi Jinping.”
Another banner meanwhile listed a range of grievances, including some against the country’s stringent Covid-19 restrictions. “We want food, not PCR tests. We want freedom, not lockdowns. We want respect, not lies. We want reform, not Cultural Revolution. We want a vote, not a leader. We want to be citizens, not slaves.”
International outlets such as the Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported on the incident, whilst it appeared as the top story on the BBC News website. It was also covered by Taiwanese media and independent platforms such as Initium, though the protest was ignored by mainstream Hong Kong outlets.
Independent online outlet ReNews shared the news, whilst HK01 initially reported on the protest but later removed the article. It could still be found on Google cache and archival website WayBack Machine.
The banners were removed quickly on the same day but photos were already being widely shared by netizens. Chinese authorities, however, were swift to take down social media posts related to the incident, including those with keywords such as #Haidian, #Sitong bridge, and even #Beijing. There were also police presence near the overpass afterwards.
US-based Chinese writer Fang Shimin said on Twitter that the person who allegedly hung the banners was a man called Peng Lifa, who calls himself Peng Zaizhou online. Fang claimed that Peng left comments on his previous posts before the protest, and shared similar content about protesting on the ResearchGate website. The content has now been deleted, Fang said.
Fang also posted pictures saying the bridges in Beijing were now guarded.
“If someone displays a slogan on a building, does it mean all buildings in Beijing also need to be guarded?” the writer asked.
Following the censorship, people used another hashtag – #ISawIt – to communicate on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. But those were also removed, with some reporting that their account was permanently blocked.
When searching for the #ISawIt hashtag on Weibo, the platform showed a message that read “[A]ccording to relevant laws and regulations, the topic page cannot be displayed.”
Others meanwhile took to Twitter, saying the person who hung the banners was “brave.”
Activist Wang Dan, who was a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen movement, was among those who praised Peng. The exiled dissident called him “the new tank man,” a reference to a famous picture of a man standing in front of military tanks at Tiananmen Square following the bloody crackdown.
Hours after Thursday’s protest images went viral, state media commentator Hu Xijin said on Twitter that citizens supported the country’s leadership: “China’s political stability is solid, because the country is developing very well in general, and the vast majority of people support the CPC’s leadership, hoping for stability and opposing upheaval.” He did not make reference to the demonstration.
Hong Kong police
Meanwhile, Hong Kong police shared photos of special forces across social media, including shots of the counter terrorism response unit patrolling Hong Kong streets and “important buildings” ahead of China’s party congress.
It said it will safeguard national security by safeguarding “the south gate,” referring to Hong Kong being in the southern China.
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