In wake of the Urumqi fire, an event that took the lives of ten and injured nine, protests erupted across China in the major cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and more. Participants took up a common banner- a blank piece of paper.
On Nov. 27th, during a ceremony intended to mourn the victims of the fire, people began shouting for policy changes after a build-up of discontent spanning since the start of the pandemic. Soon after, one protester held up a sheet of paper that would later be adopted by the rest of the movement.
A piece of paper is blank; it is empty and lacks any distinctive message aside from its own white void. The purpose of that void is for a person to fill it with their own contents, each unique to every person. This freedom to apply any message to the sheet of paper has already seen its use among the different groups in China that have risen up under the banner of the A4 Revolution, the name dubbed for these events.
By being able to hold any message, that piece of paper has reflected the population that adopts this symbol, especially considering how there are many conflicting beliefs among the groups in each city currently participating in the revolution. A major example of this would be those in Shanghai asking for the China Communist Party (CCP) to step down, whereas Beijing students have been seen calling for the CCP to return to true communism.
Though, just as the paper is able to hold multiple messages, it is also able to share the beliefs of people across all boards. This is evident in the initial purpose of the protests, to call for an end to Zero COVID policy, the speculated cause for the deaths in the fire. This is paired with the overall use of the paper to speak for the censorship of criticism towards the policy on social media platforms like Weibo.
Many also make note of similarities between the blank page and the umbrella, the item that represents the 2014 Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong, which called for democracy within its political system. Another protest for comparison would be in 2020, where women in Belarus held up white flowers as a sign of peaceful protest against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”. You could even find a relation with the classic pitchforks and torches stereotypically used by peasants during scenes taking place in the medieval period.
The common theme behind all of these symbols is the mundanity they share, the regular people who spearhead all of these protests. However “normal” a person or object may be, it is the ordinary that continues to give power to these protests of life-altering futures.