Xi Jinping consolidates self-coup —amid repression

After years of centralizing power in his own person, China's president and party secretary Xi Jinping secured a third leadership term Oct. 23 at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is stacked with loyalists, abandoning the practice of balancing rival tendencies within the body. This cements Xi's place as China's "paramount leader" in the autocratic tradition of Mao Zedong. Premier Li Keqiang is to step down, replaced by Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, who followed Xi onto the stage at the Great Hall of the People as the new Standing Committee was introduced. A new party doctrine has been promulgated under the banner of "Two Establishes"—establishing Xi's place as the core of the CCP, and establishing Xi Jinping Thought as guiding the CCP. For the first time in a generation, there are to be no women sitting on the 25-member Politburo.  Xi's third term as party leader is unprecedented since Deng Xiaoping. (Reuters, NYT, CHRD, Bloomberg, Bloomberg, BBC News)

As loyalists of Xi's more liberal predecessor Hu Jintao were purged from the Politburo, Hu himself was physically removed from the closing ceremony of the Congress. Video from AFP showed the frail elder statesman, who had been seated on the podium alngside Xi, being shepherded out by attendants. It seemed symbolic and choreographed, and there is much skepticism about the official explanation that he had suffered a health emergency. (Sinocism, NYT, The Guardian)

On Oct. 13, eve of the opening of the Congress, a lone protester draped a banner from Beijing's central Sitong Bridge, reading: "We want food, not PCR tests. We want freedom, not lockdowns. We want respect, not lies. We want reform, not a Cultural Revolution. We want a vote, not a leader. We want to be citizens, not slaves." Another handwritten banner called for workers and students to strike and depose the "dictator and traitor Xi Jinping."

The protester, identified as Peng Lifa, better known by his online name Peng Zaizhou, was immediately arrested. But he quickly became a sensation on Chinese social media as "Bridge Man"—prompting authorities to ban that phrase and related search terms and hashtags from the internet. Some who expressed support for him online have been harassed by the police. But there was at least one public protest evidently inspired his action: Video emerged on social media Oct. 23 showing a small group of young women marching along a street in Shanghai singing "The Internationale" (a song associated with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests) and holding a banner reading "Want. Don’t want. Want. Don’t want." (The Guardian, China Change, Mind Matters News, RFA, VOA, PRI, Asia Markets)

The lead-up to the National Congress (a spectacle held every five years) saw another wave of arrests and "pretrial detention" of dissidents and human rights defenders. (CHRD)

More anti-lockdown protests in China

Residents in Guangzhou's Haizhu district broke through lockdown barriers on Nov. 14 and spilled into the streets, in a public protest against China's restrictive COVID response. Though the videos were immediately scrubbed from the internet by Chinese censors, an analysis by Freedom House found there have been dozens of protests related to COVID policies in recent months. (TNH)

Protests at giant iPhone plant in Zhengzhou

Protests have erupted at the world's biggest iPhone factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Videos show hundreds of workers marching, with some confronted by men in hazmat suits and riot police. Those livestreaming the protests said workers were beaten by police. Manufacturer Foxconn said it will work with staff and local government to prevent further violence. In its statement, the firm said some workers had doubts about pay, but that the company would fulfil payment commitments based on contracts. It also described as "patently untrue" rumors that new recruits were being asked to share dormitories with workers who were COVID-positive. (BBC News)