- A blank sheet of paper has become a symbol of protest against COVID lockdowns in China.
- People in major Chinese cities held up blank A4 papers as they marched through the streets.
- Reports of people holding paper in protest were suppressed on Weibo.
The act of holding up a blank piece of paper has become a symbol of protest in China as people take to the streets to protest the government’s ongoing zero-COVID measures.
Protests against China’s tough COVID-19 restrictions erupted across China over the weekend. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing have had demonstrations on a scale not seen since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The anti-government protests have been largely peaceful, although people in cities like Shanghai have been met with violence by police and have featured a common sight: People lifting blank sheets of paper over their heads.
A large rally took place at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s university, Tsinghua University in Beijing. Students were seen brandishing sheets of paper and shouting slogans such as: “Government for the people, freedom for all”.
—Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) November 27, 2022
Videos posted to Twitter over the weekend also showed a large-scale protest near Beijing’s Liangma Bridge on Sunday, where people held up blank papers and chanted slogans such as: “No to our leaders, yes to vote. We will not be slaves.” We are citizens”.
“The white paper represents everything we want to say but cannot say,” a 26-year-old man named Johnny told Reuters during the Liangma River protests.
—The Great Translation Movement 大翻译运动官方推号 (@TGTM_Official) November 27, 2022
Protesters in the central Chinese city of Chengdu were seen holding scraps of paper during a demonstration, as unrest spread from major Chinese cities to smaller ones.
—Election Wizard 🇺🇸 (@ElectionWiz) November 27, 2022
Youths were also seen holding papers as they walked the streets of Dali city in the southwestern province of Yunnan, playing music and singing.
—Voices Against Autocracy (@VAA_2020) November 27, 2022
In a now-deleted video, one person took to Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like platform, to offer another explanation of what the document meant, according to Bloomberg. Posting a video of a blank piece of paper, the user wrote: “Here silence speaks louder, whoever understands knows.”
Protest signs are censored on Weibo
Information about protesters holding up blank sheets of paper appears to have been largely suppressed on Weibo.
Several protest-related hashtags have been censored, Insider has found. Insider searched for the category tag “meaning to keep a whitepaper” and specific hashtags like “Tsinghua students whitepaper,” but found no posts were showing. The app was showing a notification saying “no data found”. However, the hashtag still existed on the platform, although the posts had been deleted, a telltale sign that the threads had been deleted and censored.
Even footage of small-scale protests appears to have been censored on Chinese social media platforms.
A surprising video shows a young woman walking the streets of Wuzhen, a town in the eastern province of Zhejiang. The woman could be seen wearing chains around her hands, duct tape over her mouth, and holding a sheet of white paper in her hands. As of press time, Insider was unable to find the video or its source on Weibo, and searches for “Wuzhen” only showed posts about tourist spots and restaurants in the city.
—Dr. Leta Hong Fincher 洪理达 (@LetaHong) November 27, 2022
China’s censorship machine, which was already able to shut down entire Weibo threads within three hours in 2012, has been in overdrive in recent years. The platform quickly censored any dissent regarding the Chinese government’s COVID-19 policies, including news of food shortages this year.
Some posts manage to evade censorship. An October incident – involving the death of a young girl in a COVID-19 quarantine center in China – ended up attracting widespread attention, though the ensuing outrage was also quickly censored.
Weibo representatives did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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