It was a tiny incident, not captured by TV cameras, nor did it make headlines across the world. But it suggested a seismic shift in attitudes. The men in white hazmat suits, (the Big Whites as they are known as or da bai in Mandarin) had come to lock down a building of about 100 residents in northern Beijing.
It was close to 5pm on Sunday. The Big Whites erected steel barriers and were about to cordon off the 26-floor structure with a large metal fence. Then the women came out. They were a group of mothers of small children and residents of the building. They berated the officials, shouting at them.
Security guards hurriedly arrived and menacingly took up position. Everyone expected the women to back down, accept the lockdown, be arrested or at least cautioned. Those who challenge authority in China normally pay a heavy price. But the women stood their ground. Shouts and insults were exchanged. And then incredibly the men in white suits took down the barriers and left.
The security guards also left. People on the street who were queuing for Covid tests witnessed the incident and applauded the outcome. China is changing socially as well as economically.
It is worth bearing in mind that Covid cases in China, a country of 1.4 billion people, barely record a blip on the radar. According to official figures 5,200 have died since the pandemic began.
Beijing is not threatened by sporadic unrest. It has immense firepower and other measures to deal with protest. Covid restrictions will remain as the loss of face in reducing them would carry a heavy political price.
But something has changed. Xi is no longer considered beyond reproach. His policies are facing higher scrutiny in the public arena. Since Mao’s death China has been on a journey. During those tumultuous decades the party has broadly enjoyed public support under the promise of a better and wealthier tomorrow. The Chinese now fear they are being short changed.
The women who protested on Sunday gave voice to frustrations shared by millions.