They have become a symbol of China’s recent wave of protests: Blank, white sheets of paper held aloft by demonstrators to signify their opposition to anti-virus lockdowns, censorship and restrictions on free speech, media report said.
As videos of crowds holding up paper sheets and chanting slogans flooded the internet last weekend, Chinese-language social media posts have come to call the demonstrations in more than a dozen cities the “white paper revolution”, RFA reported.
Authorities have since moved quickly to squelch the protests, arresting some demonstrators and sending university students home, in a bid to quickly snuff out the most overt challenge to Chinese leadership in decades.
Using blank sheets of paper as a symbol of protest is not new.
They were used during protests in the Soviet Union during the 1990s and in recent years in Russia and Belarus as well, Taiwan-based Chinese blogger Zuola told Radio Free Asia.
“In the current climate in China, you can be told off by the government for saying anything at all,” Zuola said. “It’s the ultimate kind of performance art protest — by holding up a blank sheet of paper, you are saying that you have something to say, but that you haven’t said it yet.”
“It’s very contagious, so everything started holding up these blank sheets of paper to show dissatisfaction with the social controls imposed by the Chinese government, with their political environment and with [controls on] speech,” he said.
The protests were sparked by public anger at the delayed response to a deadly fire on Nov. 24 in Urumqi, the regional capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, that has been widely blamed on COVID-19 restrictions.
The incident, which left at least 10 people dead, tapped into pent-up frustrations of millions of Chinese who have endured nearly three years of repeated lockdowns, travel bans, quarantines and various other restrictions to their lives.
Videos swirled around the internet showing people in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities holding the white pieces of paper above their heads, demanding an end to the strict “zero-COVID” limits.
Protesters also began to call for greater freedom of expression, democratic reforms, and even the removal of President Xi Jinping, who has been closely identified with the rigid policies, RFA reported.