The disaster came as disillusionment with the zero-Covid policy was already running high. Violent clashes broke out between workers and security at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou that manufactures iPhones. Scott Kennedy, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, DC, says that when he visited Beijing and Shanghai in September and October, it was clear that people were “tired” of methods such as regular PCR tests, analysis of “health codes” a QR to go anywhere, and a constant interest in new closures. Kennedy said: “I’m not surprised that things have gotten worse.” The government in early November signed that some restrictions could be lifted soon, but the fire in Urumqi and the news that Covid cases are rising again, he says, “pushed people to the edge.”
Like people around the world, Chinese citizens fed up with the lockdown turned to their phones to express their anger. Their knowledge of the spotlight and how to avoid it helped advance the show and helped fuel what would become their lasting brand. Protesters held up white papers and posted white circles on the internet, which many saw as a sign of prohibition. White is the color of mourning in China, and the protest is called “A4 Revolution, or “white paper revolution” 白纸革命.
Activists began to use common hacking techniques, such as sending text messages or adding filters to videos before sharing to avoid automatic detection. Demonstrations were referred to using code words, such as “walking.”
For Chinese netizens, using puns, memes, and other tricks to avoid censorship is old hat, although they are often used to grumble or criticize the government rather than to encourage public criticism. In the past week, they have been posting pictures of music videos that have intimate lyrics, or interestingly enough that most of the public news is filled with comments like “good” or “correct.”
In the last three years, when the home internet has become more controlled, people have become more aware of using VPNs and US platforms such as. Twitter and Instagram to find and spread information, says a Chinese citizen who is currently in Hong Kong. The Telegram messaging app and Apple’s AirDrop local file-sharing service provide important ways to spread protest information, although Apple recently rolled out AirDrop in China so calls are only visible to others nearby for 10 minutes at a time. Together, these digital tools boosted the awareness and communication of protests taking place across China. The group is showing a strange and multi-ethnic unity, the Hong Kong man says, with migrant workers, ethnic minorities, women’s groups, and students all protesting.
Towards the end of last week, the government’s efforts to suppress the protests became visible, on city streets and online. A Guangzhou tech worker says that on Sunday night when he approached the place where the protestors were holding signs, there were about 200 police officers at the place, who, in turn, dispersed among the people to prevent large groups from forming. He left but heard that the same night the protesters had clashed with the police. In the days that followed, he said, other protesters in the area were contacted by police, possibly using location information taken from their phones. Earlier this week, news reports reported that police were in major cities where protests took place, and in some places they were monitoring people’s phones using VPNs or apps like Telegram.