Chinese protesters have turned to a uniquely plain everyday object in their demonstrations against the strict “zero COVID” strategy — a blank sheet of paper.
As mass demonstrations first erupted in major cities across China last weekend, protesters could be seen holding up the blank sheets of white paper, leading some to dub the protests the “white paper revolution” or the “A4 revolution” for the size of the standard sheet.
The so-called “white paper revolution” was sparked by a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi that killed 10 people and injured nine others. Many blamed the strict COVID-19 policies for slowing down rescue efforts at the apartment building, which had been in a state of lockdown for several months.
Some protesters initially held up the white sheets of paper as a symbol of mourning, as white is the color of death and mourning in Chinese culture, according to The New York Times.
However, the sheets of papers have largely come to be used as a symbol of defiance against the Chinese state’s strict censorship, while also serving as a practical method for evading censorship itself.
“The white paper represent everything we want to say but cannot say,” one young protester told Reuters.
“[It] means ‘we are the voiceless, but we are also powerful,’” another protester told the Times.
Protesters in Hong Kong similarly used blank sheets of paper to express their discontent with a Chinese government-imposed national security law in 2020, which banned the use of slogans and banners that called for the city’s independence.
Even as some protesters in China have chosen the quieter route of the white papers, others have taken a more outspoken approach, calling on Chinese President Xi Jinping and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to leave power.
“Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” protesters chanted on Sunday.
Chinese officials initially responded to the protests by easing some coronavirus restrictions on Monday. However, the country’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also warned on Tuesday that it will “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces.”