Nov 30, 2022 - World

"So much hope:" A Tiananmen leader on China's COVID protests

Fengsuo Zhou, President of Humanitarian China, answers questions during an interview May 7, 2019 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

Zhou Fengsuo answers questions during an interview on May 7, 2019, in New York. Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, told Axios he was moved to tears by the historic protests in China over the weekend.

The big picture: The last time large-scale demonstrations rocked China was 33 years ago, during the nationwide mass protests that ended when the Chinese government sent tanks to Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds of young pro-democracy activists.

What he's saying: "I was in tears so many times the last few days. It's just so amazing," said Zhou, who now lives in the United States where he runs the nonprofit Humanitarian China.

  • The COVID protesters are going through a similar emotional journey as those in 1989, Zhou said.
  • It starts with "struggling with fear, but feeling this urge to do something," Zhou said. "And then you step out, and you realize there are more people like you, and that's very energizing."

On whether or not the protests will damage Chinese leader Xi Jinping's standing within the party:

  • "I don't think it matters because he has absolute control," Zhou said.
  • "This shows the advantage of a democracy. If we have bad leaders, there's a way to correct. ... Whereas in China, ... who is there to challenge him?"

What to watch: It's still early stages and thus impossible to know what the future of the current protests will be, but Zhou said people are already worrying about how the party will react.

  • "This is a regime that has no regard for human life," he said. "There's no rule to guess what they would do."
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