A year after his protest against Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party atop Beijing’s Sitong Bridge, netizens continue to ask: where is Peng Lifa? On October 13, 2022, Peng hung two banners from Sitong Bridge that read: “We want food, not COVID tests; reform, not Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not slaves”; and, “Boycott classes. Boycott work. Depose the traitorous despot Xi Jinping.” Peng was detained shortly after and has been incommunicado since. His protest inspired a global campaign of protest art. Despite nigh unprecedented all-out censorship within China’s borders, images of his protest spread across China through means both high- and low-tech. Some used Apple Airdrop to share images of the protest with others on the Guangzhou subway. Others graffitied his slogans on public restroom walls. In late November, the true impact of Peng’s October protest became clear as tens of thousands took to the streets across China in the White Paper Protests, some of them chanting the slogans Peng coined. At Voice of America, Ye Bing reported on Peng Lifa’s whereabouts and the state’s surveillance and detention of his family members and associates:
Quickly arrested that day, Peng Lifa, whose online name is Peng Zaizhou, remains in detention at an unknown location, and his close family members remain under government watch, according to sources familiar with the case who did not want to be named for fear of attracting official attention.
Authorities have yet to deliver to his family any legal documents related to his case, the sources told VOA Mandarin, and his relatives and friends haven’t been able to hire a lawyer to provide him with legal assistance.
[…] Peng Lifa’s wife, Han Yang, and their two underage daughters remain in Beijing. Authorities have arranged transportation for their daily commutes to work and school. They are accompanied by government personnel wherever they go, the sources told VOA Mandarin, describing an upended family.
Because the government confiscated the mobile phones belonging to Peng Lifa’s wife and daughters to “protect” them, they must use ones issued by the authorities.
Peng Lifa’s father-in-law, Han Yueci, who used to run a small business, has been assigned by the Public Security Bureau to work and live at a small factory and is under surveillance. Peng Lifa’s mother-in-law, who used to live in Beijing, now lives with her eldest daughter in Jilin Province in northeastern China, bordering North Korea and Russia. She is likely under surveillance. [Source]
A vast array of terms, some only tangentially related to the protest, were censored in its aftermath. On Weibo, searches for “brave,” “the brave one,” “bridge,” “salute,” “Haidian,” and “hero” only returned results from government-affiliated accounts, or “Blue Vs,” indicating intense censorship. Weibo suspended at least one user who wrote simply, “I saw it.” Weibo also banned the hashtag #Beijing. Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app, restricted search results for “Beijing” to government affiliated accounts. Searches for “Sitong Bridge” returned next to no results across Weibo, Zhihu, Douban, and Baidu. In at least one case, sharing an image of the protest in a WeChat group led to a 24-hour ban from the platform’s group chat and Moments features. QQ Music deleted all comments under the song “The Brave One” by No Party For Cao Dong. Apple Music removed the song “Sitong Bridge” from its Chinese streaming service and Baidu removed a page on the song from its digital encyclopedia.
The state’s efforts to erase Peng’s protest have not abated. In late 2022 police arrested a Chinese artist who painted a portrait of Peng and posted it to Twitter. In 2023, authorities removed the physical Sitong Bridge sign and it was subsequently erased from all digital maps as well. A human rights lawyer who attempted to visit Peng’s hometown was blocked from entering his village by plainclothes police and then detained for 24 hours.
Even so, Peng’s protest has not been forgotten. The following are comments selected from Twitter and Pincong, a Chinese-language forum blocked in China but still popular among mainland users hoping to discuss politics:
EthanZ666888：Peng Lifa, brave warrior, where are you?
Canglingge：Peng Lifa’s deeds should be inscribed in stone! He played no small part in ending the pandemic restrictions. Now that everyone has the freedom to walk out their front door, don’t forget the person who made it possible!
萨格尔王掀翻池塘：If Liu Xiaobo was the standard-bearer of the 1989 generation’s fight for freedom against tyranny, then Peng Zaizhou and program-think are, without a doubt, our contemporary leading lights. Liu Xiaobo has passed away, and the best we can hope is that Messrs. Peng and program-think remain safe. History will surely provide them a just appraisal, but it is imperative that as their contemporaries, we continue to show our concern for them, follow their example, and even (to the extent that it is possible) to attempt to save them.
Legend2020：History is on Mr. Peng’s side. As long as he lives the Party will fall and democracy will arrive. [Chinese]
Twitter account @whyyoutouzhele shared screenshots of Chinese-language remembrances of Peng Lifa that were posted to Weibo:
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of history at UC Irvine, shared a photograph of replica Sitong Bridge banners hanging in Irvine:
Others posted remembrances to Twitter: