In a remarkable violation of Party discipline, an organization partially under the auspices of the Beijing Communist Youth League’s house organ posted a requiem for the 2022 “White Paper Movement” to WeChat. The name was bestowed on the anti-lockdown protests triggered by a deadly fire in Urumqi last November after participants began brandishing blank pieces of paper to “represent everything we want to say but cannot say.” Archived copies of the original, first posted to Twitter by the account @whyyoutouzhele, show a black-and-white photograph of the staircase at Communication University of China, Nanjing in front of which the first white paper protester stood. The photograph is captioned: “I will remember November 26, 2022, I will remember the bravery of the Communication person.” The article was posted by the photography department of a Beijing student press association organized by the Beijing Youth Daily, a widely read Party-run media outlet controlled by the municipal Communist Youth League. A link to the original article now says, “The content has been deleted by the author.” Below is a screenshot of the original WeChat post titled, “A Sheet of White Paper”:
Chinese police used the full arsenal of the surveillance state to track down and detain people they believed had participated in the protests. By some estimates, over 100 people were arrested over the following months. Many of the arrests were driven by the state’s paranoid hunt for “foreign forces” supposedly behind the protests. Some of the people originally arrested are now being released. Four women including Cao Zhixin were detained for months on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a favorite “pocket crime” of the authorities, and released on bail in late April.
Despite the state’s best efforts to suppress all memories of the protests, or at least co-opt them into the “correct collective memory” of the zero-COVID era, the student photography society’s post reveals the protests’ enduring reverberations. How the post got through editorial review remains unclear. It seems likely that the student leadership of the publication simply went rogue (in the tradition of The Beijing News’ 2012 contrite clown Weibo post). At the time of publication, searches for the official account that published the remembrance, @学通社摄影部, returned no results on WeChat—an indication that the organization’s entire account may have been deleted. Nonetheless, the WeChat search bar suggests users expand their search to include “One Sheet,” an algorithmic trace of white paper’s continued presence in the public consciousness: