China is entering its fourth day of rare, widespread protests. The protests have become known as the “white paper protests” due to citizens holding up blank A4 sheets of paper in defiance of governmental authority. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s happened? Since early Friday, protests have broken out in China against long-running COVID-19 restrictions. Since virtually the start of the pandemic, China has had a “zero-COVID-19” policy, enforcing strict lockdown policies in areas where even a single case has been identified. These restrictions can last for months with people unable to leave their homes.
But why are people protesting now? Though China’s restrictions have been in place for years, Chinese citizens are taking to the streets now because of a fire that broke out in an apartment building in the Chinese city of Urumqi last Thursday. Ten people were killed in the fire, and it is thought that the pandemic lockdown measures that were in place at the time of the fire impeded the ability of the residents of the apartment building to escape the blaze.
So, what’s with the blank sheets of paper? Since protests began on Friday, Chinese citizens have taken to holding up blank A4 sheets of paper. The paper symbolizes their anger against Chinese authorities and China’s harsh lockdown measures. China is notorious for quickly banning words and phrases from social media that paint the Communist Party in poor light. As the A4 sheets of paper are blank, it’s a loophole that allows protestors to show their discontent without triggering automated censorship tools. Or as one of the protestors, identified as Johnny, told Reuters, “The white paper represent everything we want to say but cannot say.”
Are the protests happening across China? That’s hard to say. But CNN says it has confirmed protests in at least sixteen locations across the country, including in Shanghai and Beijing.
How have Chinese officials reacted to the protests? About as you’d expect. Censors are working hard to scrub any reference to the protests from Chinese social media. There is also heavy police presence in protest locations, with reports of beatings and arrests.
Extraordinary protest in heart of #Beijing against #China’s zero #COVID rules…chanting for end of lockdowns, testing and calling for defiance. Many holding up blank pieces of paper. Lines of police easing people away. Never seen anything like this in my 10 yrs in #China.@NBCNews pic.twitter.com/rh02z2O858
— Janis Mackey Frayer (@janisfrayer) November 27, 2022
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