Chanting “Xi Jinping, step down!” dozens of protesters gathered outside the Chinese consulate on the far West Side last night to denounce the Beijing government’s repressiveness amid pandemic restrictions.

Many of the demonstrators—who wore masks to protect against COVID-19 and Chinese government surveillance—waved the blank pieces of paper that have become a widespread symbol of dissent in the recent wave of anti-lockdown protests in China.

Word of the rally, organized anonymously, spread through social media as Chinese residents here seek to support the anti-lockdown protests in China that have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown under President Xi Jinping.

An altered image renders Xi as Adolf Hitler.

In Xinjiang and Beijing, protesters took to streets in rare demonstrations after at least 10 people were killed in a high-rise fire in the city of Urumqi on Nov.24. Victims’ escapes were thought to be hindered by government-erected barricades designed to ensure the isolation imposed to combat the pandemic.

Dozens joined the demonstration on 12th Avenue outside China’s New York consulate.

China’s zero-COVID policy—most recently locking down cities including Changhai and Urumqi—has trapped citizens at home for months. The result has been food shortages, lack of access to healthcare for other conditions and deteriorating mental health, with some suicides attributed to the isolation.

Candles memorialize victims of oppression in China.

Protesters say the pandemic restrictions are an excuse to further impinge on human rights.

“We can speak up right now, you know. We have freedom here to speak up,” said Dante Liu, one of the demonstrators. “But people in China, they can’t.”

The demonstration in New York follows solidarity protests across the U.S. and the world that have drawn protesters who also condemn Beijing’s longterm crackdown in Tibet, its suppression of civil rights in Hong Kong and its brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

Protesters link their current grievances with other battles against Chinese government actions and global liberation struggles.

“I can see the entire China is becoming a huge jail,” said protester Jake Wong. “In my opinion, China is not a nation. It’s a jail for all different races, different groups of people, and different cultures.”

Liu compared the current situation in China to “The Truman Show,” the 1998 Jim Carrey movie about a man growing up and living his life in a simulated reality. When he discovers the truth, he breaks free. 

“So, basically, they suddenly realized: ‘We are in a box. The outside world isn’t like us,’” he said.

One stated demand borrowed from American’s Revolutionary War history.

The protests in China and abroad represent such deep dissatisfaction with the Communist Party regime that they are bound to expand, he added.

“This is just the start.”