Overseas Chinese hold small anti-Xi Halloween march in New York City
Around 30 protesters, many dressed as the white-clad, sometimes violent enforcers of China’s zero-COVID policy, took to New York’s streets on Monday for a Halloween march with a political message: opposing the authoritarian rule of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
Holding up placards with slogans that included calls for “Class boycott to remove the dictator Xi Jinping” in English and Chinese, they gathered despite concerns that anyone protesting against the Chinese government overseas could face retaliation against their loved ones back home.
Other banners read “Free China!” and “Stand with Hong Kong,” and still others called for amnesty for political prisoners, more personal freedom and respect for human rights.
One protester who gave only his surname Wang said there was no doubt in his mind about taking part.
“I hold certain political beliefs, so naturally I came along because there was an activity,” he said. “There was no decision-making process to go through.”
Event organizers called on everyone to wear masks or face-coverings, to turn off their cell phones and to change their appearance to avoid detection by Chinese agents.
Fear of infiltration by Chinese agents
Another protester who asked not to be named said many joined in despite believing that Chinese agents would likely have infiltrated the event. Recent attacks on anti-Xi protesters — mostly Hong Kongers in exile — have sparked growing concerns over such infiltration in the United Kingdom.
Many of Monday night’s protesters were Chinese nationals studying at various universities and colleges in the Greater New York area, as well as some recent graduates now working in New York.
They converged on Freeman Plaza West before merging into the existing Halloween parade at Sixth Avenue after organizing the rally via the messaging app Telegram.
One woman was dressed in a white shirt and gray trousers and carried a card that read “Tank Man,” in reference to the man who was photographed facing down a column of People’s Liberation Army tanks on Beijing’s Chang’an Boulevard in 1989.
“This [protest] is a continuation of that spirit,” the woman said. “He disappeared after he made that stand. I don’t think we should let him disappear.”
She said a similar fate had befallen the “Bridge Man” protester, who hung anti-Xi banners calling for elections from a Beijing traffic overpass on the eve of last month’s party congress, which unanimously “voted” Xi back in for an unprecedented third term in office as party leader.
The protester has been identified on social media as Peng Lifa.
“We shouldn’t let him disappear either,” she said.
Former 1989 student protest leader Zhou Fengsuo, who now runs the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, said it was heartening to see younger Chinese citizens coming out in protest.
“It’s pretty good, and the crucial thing is that they did this on their own,” Zhou told RFA at the protest. “This is unprecedented. This is spontaneous resistance from young people.”
Zhou said there is plenty of dissatisfaction with Xi Jinping’s rule in China, but it has largely been silenced and suppressed. Outspoken critics of the ruling party are generally silenced by government censorship and “public opinion management” protocols, as well as by the fear of political reprisals that typically wreck the well-being and prosperity of entire families.
For Zhou, Monday’s modest show of dissent recalled the huge reserve public anger that erupted during the 1989 democracy movement, that centered on Tiananmen Square, but which was also seen in other major cities across China.
“The will of the people is like a volcano; their dissatisfaction is suppressed, bottled up inside and covered over, so you can’t see it,” Zhou said. “But from time to time it gets an opportunity to burst out.”
“It’s crucial that young people get to experience this,” he said. “Now that they’ve done this, they definitely won’t be the same as before.”
Zhou said that people need to “take some kind of action, however weak.” Such behavior may or may not change others, “but most importantly, action changes you.”
Zhou said there was no obvious individual or group organizing the protest, however.
“This is a scattered, diverse movement with no real center, and basically depends on spontaneous action,” Zhou told RFA. “It’s a last resort method, given the current circumstances.”
“People come together because they identify with a certain behavior.”
A protester who gave only the surname Zhang said he still recalled a young protester in Beijing in 1989 who, asked by a journalist why he had joined a bicycle parade during the protests, replied “This is my duty!”
“As a citizen, and as someone who pursues freedom and democracy, I feel [the whole community] have a duty to stand up and resist totalitarian rule,” Zhang told RFA.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.