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Why are protesters in China holding white pieces of paper as an act of defiance?

Citizens around China have taken to the streets to protest against the state's tough zero-Covid policy

Dozens of students and faculty demonstrate against strict anti-virus measures in China, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, at Harvard University in Cambridge. (AP Photo)

Cities across China have been witnessing waves of protests against the country’s tough zero-Covid policy in recent weeks. The movement, which is no longer limited to China alone, is widely being dubbed the ‘white paper revolution’. This is because of the blank sheets of white A4-sized paper many of the demonstrators have been seen holding during these protests.

Many of the protesters have been calling for the resignation of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. Large-scale protests like these are rare in China, where public dissent is  usually quickly stifled.

But first, why are demonstrations taking place in China?

In November, at least 10 people were killed in a building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which had been under lockdown for about 100 days. People blamed China’s brutal lockdown for the deaths. When a Chinese official appeared to blame the residents for the incident, protests first broke out in Xinjiang and then eventually spread to Beginning, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Lanzhou, and Nanjing.

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Why are demonstrators using white paper to protest?

Over the weeks, the humble white sheet of paper became a symbol of the protests. It has come to symbolise the lack of free speech in the country.

White papers as a sign of protest were previously used in Hong Kong in 2020, to avoid slogans banned under the city’s new national security law. Demonstrators in Moscow have also used them this year to protest Russia’s war with Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Students at universities in cities including Nanjing and Beijing are holding up blank sheets of paper in silent protest, a tactic used in the country to evade censorship or arrest.

White is a common funeral color in China and demonstrators are also using it to mourn those lost in the protests, according to a New York Times report.

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How are the protests spreading globally?

The hashtag “A4Revolution” — a reference to the size of the paper — began trending on Twitter after the protests started spreading across the nation. Soon, Instagram and Facebook users around the world started changing their profile photos to blank sheets of paper in support of the Chinese protesters, The New York Times reported. On China’s state-controlled social media, WeChat and Weibo, users are showing solidarity by  posting blank white squares or photos of themselves holding blank sheets of paper. The movement has spread to an extent where the hashtag “white paper exercise” was blocked on Weibo prompting users to lament the censorship. “If you fear a blank sheet of paper, you are weak inside,” one Weibo user posted, as reported by Reuters.

First published on: 01-12-2022 at 13:09 IST
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