China, through brute force, high-tech surveillance and a rare willingness to temper its harsh "COVID-zero" policy, has successfully snuffed out its worst protests since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 as the United States watched from the sidelines. The situation remains volatile.

Nationwide protests began with a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, on Nov. 24 that killed 10 people and injured nine. The city had been under lockdown for more than three months and many felt that locked doors and other anti-COVID-19 measures had hobbled firefighters. The New York Times cited one estimate that roughly 40% of the country’s people were under lockdown at the time.

Frustration had been building up over seemingly endless COVID-19 tests and lockdowns. The World Cup showed Chinese audiences that people outside China were enjoying a maskless life.