Protests in China are rare, so the current protests against the Xi government’s zero-COVID-19 policy are all the more conspicuous globally. Public discontent snowballed into public dissent after the death of 10 people in an apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang. People believe that lockdown measures delayed rescue operations. Now, as protests mushroom across the country, protesters have turned to blank sheets of paper to express their anger. But what does the white blank paper stand for? 

It’s a form of silent protest to evade censorship or arrests and is an oft-used expression. In 2020 in Hong Kong, activists held up blank sheets of paper to protest the national security law. In 2022, dissenters in Moscow held up blank sheets to protest the Russia-Ukraine war. Now, images of protesters at universities in Nanjing and Beijing have been spotted holding white sheets of paper in silent protests.

On Saturday, a crowd gathered to hold a candlelight vigil in Shanghai for the Urumqi victims. They held up white sheets of paper. Likewise, on Sunday, protesters at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and along the 3rd Ring Road near Liangma River were spotted holding white paper sheets. 

The candlelight vigil turned into a protest and people shouted, “Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China”, while some shouted, “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping”.

One video that has since gone viral shows a lone woman holding a white sheet of paper before a man walks in to snatch it away. 

One protester told Reuters that the white paper represents everything they want to say but cannot. 

Internet users also showed solidarity by posting blank white squares or photos of themselves holding blank sheets of paper. The hashtag ‘white paper exercise’ was blocked on Weibo by Sunday morning. 

Protests do not take place frequently in China as President Xi Jingping’s government has almost completely muzzled dissent. People are forced to take to social media to protest.

China’s zero-COVID-19 policy, even as most of the world is trying to coexist with the virus, has left its citizens disgruntled. The city of Urumqi, where the apartment fire happened, has been under lockdown for as long as 100 days. 

(With agency inputs)

Also read: ‘Xi Jinping step down’: Protests flare over China’s zero-Covid policy; all you need to know

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