Shanghai has long been regarded as the most civilized city in China. The municipality’s GDP per capita ranks first in the country, and, until recently, the Shanghainese people have been rightfully proud of their high levels of sophistication and modernity. But not anymore. Since March, the city has fallen into chaos, with many residents living in misery and struggling for access to food and other basic resources, as they try to survive under Xi Jinping’s “zero-Covid” policy.

The violent enforcement of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy has killed many more people in the city than the virus has. According to an incomplete estimate, which uses crowdsourcing to record this type of death, the death toll in Shanghai alone had reached 177 as of April 24. The actual number could be much higher. Some victims died at the front gates of hospitals that denied access to medical care, some jumped from buildings to their deaths, and others simply hanged themselves in their apartment stairwells. The victims include nurses, musicians, and teachers as well as toddlers.

Under the central government’s order to reduce, in the shortest time and at any cost, new Covid cases to zero, Shanghai residents have faced unprecedented neglect, mistreatment, and abuse. Videos leaked on social media show CCP enforcers in white medical-isolation gowns beating people up, taking them away, or welding doors and shutting entryways with metal bars. There are also makeshift quarantine camps, in which tens of thousands of people are detained. In these hellish camps, men and women, adults and children, are crowded together under one roof, with insufficient food and a lack of other basic necessities. Indeed, many residents who survived the Great Famine and the tumultuous Cultural Revolution now find themselves starving in China’s most prosperous city.

These blatant human-rights violations, disguised as “pandemic prevention” measures, have exposed the cruel and inhumane side of Communist China’s system, as well as its tendencies toward rigid and ineffective governance. This has awakened people’s awareness of their political and civil rights. In Shanghai and elsewhere in China, more and more people are standing up and speaking out for themselves and their communities.

Angry Shanghai residents have begun staging defiant acts of civil disobedience in protest against Beijing’s brutality. Some dismantle barbed-wire fences, others bang their cooking pots on the balconies. In the video Voice of April, Shanghainese residents depict the endless suffering of people under the zero-Covid policy. The video went viral despite the CCP’s watertight censorship. Shanghai-based rapper Astro released a song, “New Slave,” to criticize the government’s abuse of power and its neglect of human life. More and more people have come out to sing the national anthem — in particular the line “Arise! Ye who refuse to be bond slaves!” Ironically, this has led Chinese authorities to censor its own national anthem. Some local party chiefs resigned, and neighborhood committee members abandoned their posts. Shanghai residents have formed a self-assistance and self-governance commission, unequivocally demanding democracy and freedom, and urging mass civil disobedience until Beijing ends its inhumane zero-Covid policy. On the night of April 24, people in many districts of Shanghai took to the streets to protest.

The Chinese government has characterized its aggressive zero-Covid policy as necessary in the great struggle against the West, to prove the superiority of the Chinese socialist system, which will determine the fate of the CCP. But in reality, like all dictators, Xi adamantly refuses to admit his mistakes. That may shake his authority, particularly after claiming that China’s “success” in containing the virus was his personal great achievement and that he deserves a gold medal for it. Xi wanted to use (the appearance of) success in defeating the novel coronavirus to prove his wisdom and greatness and demonstrate that he deserves a third term as China’s leader. Behind all the brutality and arrogance is a dictator’s desire for unlimited power to control people and society to satisfy his personal ambition and vanity.

We believe that Xi Jinping’s mismanagement of the pandemic has proved him to be unfit to be the country’s leader and to continue to rule China. He put his own will and interests and the regime’s security above all else, with no regard for the lives of ordinary Chinese people. The Biden administration should condemn the CCP’s violence and not remain silent about Beijing’s gross human-rights violations during the pandemic. We urge the United States and the international community to stand up and speak out in support of the people of Shanghai and China and aim to stop the Communist Party’s atrocities.

From the Shanghainese resistance, we see a flickering spark of hope behind all the suffering. This spark could ignite a flame and trigger a massive civil-disobedience movement for freedom for the Chinese people. The U.S. should lend that resistance a hand in this time of its need.

Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, he was a founder of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for twelve years as a legislative counsel and policy director for three senators. Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of For Us, the Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.

This article first appeared in National Review on May 4, 2022