When someone first chanted, “No more Communist Party,” the crowd laughed, according to Serena, a college student who is spending her gap year in Shanghai. “Everyone knew it was the red line,” she said.
Then it became increasingly charged. When someone yelled, “Xi Jinping, step down!” and “C.C.P., step down!” the shouts were the loudest, according to Serena and other protesters who were also there.
In Beijing, a marketing professional in her mid-20s with the surname Wu told her fellow protesters not to shout those politically explicit slogans because that would guarantee a crackdown. Instead, she shouted slogans that urged the government to follow the rule of law and release detained Shanghai protesters.
A protester in Chengdu and one in Guangzhou, separated by 1,000 miles, both said they had been stopped from shouting slogans that other demonstrators deemed too political and had been told to stick to the Covid-related demands.
For many of them, this weekend was their first brush with the police. A protester named Xiaoli in Chengdu said she had never seen so many police in her life. After being chased by them, she said she could hear her heart beating fast when she passed by officers on her way home.
It was clear that many protesters blame Mr. Xi for the extremely unpopular “zero-Covid” policy. A young Shanghai professional with the surname Zhang said Mr. Xi’s norm-breaking third term, secured at last month’s party congress, spelled the end of China’s progress. “We all gave up our illusions,” he said.