In China, the 'A4 Revolution' Takes Hold

Protesters angry at COVID lockdowns, censorship are holding up blank sheets of paper
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 7:50 AM CST
China's New Symbol of Defiance: Blank Paper
Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

As a wave of rare demonstrations took place across China over the weekend, a common sight emerged—blank sheets of paper. As the BBC reports, demonstrators frequently held them aloft as they criticized the nation's COVID lockdown policies, censorship laws, and even leader Xi Jinping. Why this particular symbol? "The white paper represents everything we want to say but cannot say," one protester in Beijing tells Reuters. In fact, the New York Times reports that Chinese social media has been flooded with the hashtag "A4Revolution," referring to the name of the paper, as people attempt to skirt censorship laws but still support the demonstrations.

The stories note that blank sheets of paper also became popular during the Hong Kong protests of 2020, after the government forbid slogans and chants. However, the Times suggests the origin goes back even further, to the era of the Soviet Union. According to an old joke, a dissident distributing leaflets is swarmed by police, who discover that the leaflets are blank. The dissident then explains words aren't needed because "everyone knows." That seems to be what's happening in China, too. "There was definitely nothing on the paper, but we know what's on there," a woman tells the BBC.

The weekend protests—in Beijing, Shanghai, at universities, and elsewhere—represent what the AP calls the "most widespread show of opposition to the ruling party in decades." The tipping point appears to have been a deadly fire in the city of Urumqi that claimed 10 lives. Demonstrators say the nation's draconian COVID restrictions hampered firefighters' ability to get the blaze under control quickly because of locked doors and such. The big question is whether the protests will continue through the week or perhaps start up again next weekend. (Read more China stories.)

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