China has two repressive systems that exist simultaneously: the highly coercive and surveilled system in Xinjiang, and the trust-based model of everyday repression prevalent throughout the rest of the country. The trust-based model has undergirded grassroots governance in China and facilitated the routine implementation of Zero-Covid. Drawing on a protest event dataset, I analyze the key characteristics of the covid protests erupted in November and December of 2022, before situating them in the larger context of China’s political future under Xi Jinping’s rule. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has responded to the protests with a combination of concession and repression. But neither the carrot nor the stick is able to fundamentally address the deep-rooted social problems or halt the tide of dissent. Coupled with structural economic challenges, these protests could be the harbinger of a new era of contentious state-society relations in China, the seeds of which were sown years ago–only precipitated and underscored by the CCP’s covid debacle.