Across Communist China a Sheet of Blank White Paper “Is a Symbol of Tacit Defiance”

(p. A7) In Shanghai, a vigil grew into a street protest where many held blank sheets of white paper in a symbol of tacit defiance.

. . .

. . . in a country where the authorities have very little tolerance for open dissent, many communicated through subtler methods, and among the most prominent were the blank sheets of white paper used in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities.

. . .

Demonstrators used the white sheets to mourn those lost — white is a common funeral color in China — and to express an anger understood implicitly by millions who have suffered under pandemic restrictions.

The display of wordless papers “means ‘we are the voiceless, but we are also powerful,’” said Hazel Liu, a 29-year-old film producer who attended the vigil along the Liangma River in Beijing on Sunday [Nov. 27, 2022].

. . .

“People have a common message,” said Xiao Qiang, a researcher on internet freedom at the University of California, Berkeley. “They know what they want to express, and authorities know too, so people don’t need to say anything. If you hold a blank sheet, then everyone knows what you mean.”

Some protesters told The New York Times that the white papers took inspiration from a Soviet-era joke, in which a dissident accosted by the police for distributing leaflets in a public square reveals the fliers to be blank. When asked, the dissident replies that there is no need for words because “everyone knows.”

. . .

Some have pushed the protests in other creative directions. A statement that appeared to have been sent by one of China’s largest stationery companies circulated online, saying that the company would suspend sales of A4 paper to “safeguard national security and stability.” The company was forced to announce on its social media account that the message was fabricated and that all operations remained normal.

The muted defiance of the protests — often innocuous on the surface — has handed the police the nebulous task of deciding what crosses the line.

For the full story, see:

Chang Che and Amy Chang Chien. “With Sly Memes and Wordless Protests, Fed-Up Chinese Test the Authorities.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 29, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2022, and has the title “Memes, Puns and Blank Sheets of Paper: China’s Creative Acts of Protest.”)

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