Late on Nov. 27, book editor Cao Zhixin, who was about to turn 26 years old, joined a protest near Beijing’s embassy district with a few of her friends. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that accidentally made them symbols of the most public display of defiance in a generation—as well as the state’s forceful response.
The rally was billed as a vigil for victims of a deadly fire in an apartment building in China’s west that had been under Covid-19 lockdown. Ms. Cao and her friends brought flowers and candles and sang, along with the crowd, the traditional Chinese lament “Farewell.”
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