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In China protests, let 100 flowers bloom

For Yankees, running dogs of capitalist overlords as we are, it can be hard to get our rabid heads around the idea of not  openly criticizing our leaders.

This is the land after all of “Let’s go, Brandon,” a phrase the meaning of which is known  throughout the nation, involving taunting the president of the United States with a nasty, created, natch, out of a censored NASCAR cheer.

It is a phrase inscribed on ball caps, which we are supposed to read and either thereafter greet the cap wearer with a fist bump, or politely ignore.

I mean, I’m not going to get into a political argument with jokers.

A few months ago I was driving and came upon a highway blocked by a downed tree. I pulled over. The only others at the scene were a local cop and an older local dude, wearing a red “Let’s go, Brandon” cap. Idiot though it made the dude appear, I had to, well, just let it go.

In China, you don’t get to tell the Beijing bosses where to get off with a cap slogan. Never have been able to, whether in the millennia of emperors — the “running dog” catcall toward Westerners began in the Qing Dynasty — or with the Chinese Communist Party.

Among the many fascinating aspects of the cropping up of anti-government protests in the Middle Kingdom are the ways, veiled and not so much, that the people rising up after too many years of COVID lockdowns are openly criticizing their rulers.

Some have even called for the removal of party leader Xi Jinping, who recently reinstalled himself for an unprecedented third term in office, and who would like to be dictator for life.

The very good excuse is the anger over 10 people dying in a fire in a high-rise apartment in the far western city of Urumqi, the building doors of which were said to be locked because of restrictions mandated by the nation’s zero-COVID policy, so that firefighters couldn’t get in.

Suddenly, millions of young people in Shanghai and Beijing, who don’t usually give a thought to fellow citizens in the hinterlands, saw that the same thing could clearly happen to them in the big cities. They know in their bones that zero-COVID has been a bust. Not in the sense that it hasn’t saved lives, with supposedly less than 10,000 Chinese dead from the virus, versus over 1 million here. It’s that there is no end game in sight; the economy is being ruined with everyone confined to quarters, or rioting in their iPhone factories; the government has been criminally slow in developing and distributing vaccines, which have let the West relatively safely begin again to mingle, so that people don’t go crazy.

On a cold night in Beijing last week, a young crowd gathered at sunset at a memorial for the dead. Numbers swelled to hundreds within two hours, Vivian Wang reports for The New York Times. “We don’t want lockdowns, we want freedom!” people chanted. And then, enormously heartening to an old newsman — and an American — “Freedom of the press! Freedom of publishing!”

Yeah, things have to be a bit subtler under the ever-watchful cops, who often outnumber protesters. Rather than sporting some equivalent of “Let’s go, Brandon,” the Chinese kids just wave blank sheets of white paper, both symbolizing grief and the frustration over their inability to say what they mean.

And these Beijingers sick of three years of home confinement even displayed a subtle sense of humor. When a cop told them to stop chanting against the lockdowns, they replied with a smirk: “Continue lockdowns!” and “I want to do COVID tests!”

Satire may be what closes Saturday night, but it’s a healthy sign in a protest movement. May Xi come to know that a revolution, while indeed not a dinner party, can arise from the simple desire to attend one.

Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. [email protected]

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