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Blank sheets of paper become symbol of defiance in China protests By Reuters

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) curbs at the site of a candlelight vigil for victims of the Urumqi Fire in Shanghai, China, in this screenshot from a video released November 27, 2022 . Video received from Reuters/via R

SHANGHAI/BEJING (Reuters) – Chinese protesters have turned to blank sheets of paper to express their anger at the COVID-19 restrictions in a rare, widespread spate of public dissent that has spread beyond social media to some of China’s streets and top universities has gone.

Pictures and videos circulating online showed students at universities in cities like Nanjing and Beijing holding up blank sheets of paper in silent protest, a tactic sometimes used to avoid censorship or arrest.

China is sticking to its strict zero-COVID policy even as much of the world tries to coexist with the coronavirus.

The latest spate of anger was sparked by an apartment fire that killed 10 people on Thursday in Urumqi, a far western city where some people have been locked up for 100 days, fueling speculation that COVID lockdown measures are causing the escape of residents may have disabled .

According to witnesses and videos, a crowd gathered late Saturday in Shanghai for a candlelight vigil for Urumqi victims held up blank sheets.

A widely circulated video, said to be from Saturday and which could not be independently verified, showed a lone woman standing with a piece of paper on the steps of the Communication University of China in the eastern city of Nanjing before an unidentified man entered the scene and tear it away.

Other images showed dozens of other people subsequently walking onto the university steps with blank sheets of paper and illuminated against the night sky by flashlights from their mobile phones.

A man was later seen chiding the crowd for their protest.

“One day you will pay for everything you did today,” he said in videos seen by Reuters.

“The state will also have to pay the price for what it has done,” the crowd shouted back.

Widespread in-person protests are rare in China, where the space for dissent has been all but eliminated under President Xi Jinping, forcing citizens to express themselves primarily on social media, where they play cat-and-mouse games play censors.

Similar sheets were seen by people who gathered on the campus of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University to sing the Chinese national anthem on Sunday.

Protesters were advised to bring a blank sheet of paper to at least one planned demonstration, according to tips shared on Reuters chat groups.

In Hong Kong in 2020, activists also raised blank white sheets in protest to avoid slogans banned under the city’s new national security law, imposed after massive and sometimes violent protests the previous year. Demonstrators in Moscow have also used them this year to protest Russia’s war with Ukraine.

A Beijing resident surnamed Wang, who joined his neighbors on Saturday in pressuring local authorities to release his apartment from lockdown, described his sadness as he spoke of “secondary disasters” related to the COVID-19 outbreak. heard politics.

Wang referred to incidents in China that sparked anger on social media, including a pregnant woman who suffered a miscarriage after she was denied entry to a hospital in Xian in January, the fatal crash of a bus in Guizhou, the carried people being quarantined and a young boy in Lanzhou who died from gas poisoning during the lockdown.

“Any of these could have happened to me or my wife,” he told Reuters.

Several netizens showed solidarity by posting blank white squares or photos of themselves with blank sheets on their WeChat timelines or on Weibo (NASDAQ:). On Sunday morning, the “White Paper Exercise” hashtag was blocked on Weibo, prompting users to lament the censorship.

“Anyone who fears a blank sheet of paper is weak inside,” one Weibo user posted.

(This story has been corrected to remove the reference to the height of the Hong Kong protests in paragraph 14.)