One year after crowds of protesters across China held up blank sheets of paper, chanting slogans calling for an end to the zero-COVID policy and for Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to step down, activists overseas vowed to keep the flame of the “white paper” revolution alive, despite attempts by Beijing to scare them away. While authorities in China moved quickly to quash the protests, arresting a number of young people for taking part, some managed to leave China, joining others who were already expressing their support on the streets of cities around the world, sometimes risking retaliation against their families back home.
One of those overseas supporters was Apple, of the dissident group China Deviants, who was in touch with the protesters in real time via Telegram, and who organized a rally to mark the anniversary of their resistance in London this week. “On one voice call, a girl got busted right in the middle of the call,” Apple told Radio Free Asia. “People in the group were shouting ‘That girl got busted!’ and I was on the other end of the phone in London.” “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh! I really wish I could help her and bring her back’,” she recalled. Instead, she got active right where she was, taking to the streets of London to oppose Chinese Communist Party rule.
The “white paper” protests were sparked by public anger at the delayed response to a deadly fire on Nov. 24 in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, that was widely blamed on COVID-19 restrictions. The incident, which left at least 10 people dead, prompted an outpouring of public grief and tapped into pent-up frustrations of millions of Chinese who had endured nearly three years of repeated lockdowns, travel bans, quarantines and various other restrictions to their lives.
Apple, a member of the dissident group China Deviants, organized a rally in London this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the White Paper resistance. Credit: Shi Shi
But it wasn’t all about calling for an end to lockdowns and mass quarantines. Protesters also voiced calls for greater freedom of expression, democratic reforms, and even the removal of President Xi Jinping, who has been closely identified with the rigid policies. “We want to amplify the voices that have been censored in China overseas, because it’s impossible to have any form of civil society in [today’s] China,” she said. “We want all voices to be included … to be heard.”
Fellow China Deviants activist Chen Liangshi said overseas activism is still not risk-free, and that the threat of violence and harassment from “little pink” supporters of Beijing is always there. “There are a lot of little pinks overseas, and I would never know how many people felt the way I did,” Chen said. “But since joining China Deviants, I have found a lot of like-minded friends.” “When we work together for the causes of resisting communist rule, and democracy for China, I feel very excited, and have found a sense of belonging,” he said.