White paper movement a backlash against Xi power grab: Chinese activists

11/30/2022 06:42 PM
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Student and human rights groups stage a demonstration outside a Legislative Yuan building in Taipei Wednesday, voicing their support for student protesters in China. CNA photo Nov. 30, 2022
Student and human rights groups stage a demonstration outside a Legislative Yuan building in Taipei Wednesday, voicing their support for student protesters in China. CNA photo Nov. 30, 2022

Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) The widespread protests against China's strict zero-COVID policy demanding political freedoms reflect public anger over Chinese President Xi Jinping's (習近平) iron grip on power, according to some overseas Chinese activists.

Protests have broken out around China, and students and residents have joined the "white paper movement" in dozens of places after Covid restrictions reportedly delayed rescue efforts in a deadly fire on Nov. 24 in Urumqi, Xinjiang, leading to 10 deaths and nine injuries.

Han Wu (韓武), a U.S.-based official of the China Democracy Party, which is banned by Beijing, told CNA in Taipei on Tuesday that the protests were instigated by the Communist Youth League (CYL) faction, known as tuanpai (團派), in response to Xi's dominance of the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As Xi secured a third-term as head of the CCP at the party congress in October, he removed the top politicians in the CYL faction -- Li Keqiang (李克強), Wang Yang (汪洋), Hu Chunhua (胡春華) -- from the top echelons of power because he saw them as a threat, Han said.

This stacking of China's leadership ranks with loyalists has "met with opposition within the CCP and Chinese society," said Han, who recently traveled to Taiwan to observe the country's local elections on Nov. 26.

Jie Chen (陳杰), associate professor at the University of Western Australia, said he was surprised to see that the demonstrations were about more than COVID restrictions as protestors chanted slogans to demand "democracy, the rule of law, freedom, and the right to vote."

The bold acts have defied the stereotype of the post-'90s generation, which is seen as having strong chauvinist tendencies toward the CCP after being raised in an education system that stresses nationalism and party loyalty, said Chen, who left for Australia to study in 1989.

Some people attending a vigil held in Seoul hold sheets of white paper on Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 30, 2022
Some people attending a vigil held in Seoul hold sheets of white paper on Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 30, 2022

For a leader like Xi who did not hesitate to use force to quell protests in Hong Kong, even at the cost of destroying the city's status as an international financial center, there was no reason for optimism that Xi will yield to activist demands, Chen said.

Yet, regardless of the outcome, the protestors have ignited a light of hope for reform in China, said Chen, who was also in Taiwan to observe the elections and do research.

Many people have also taken to WeChat, the main social media space in China, to counter the claim by Chinese authorities that the protests were linked to "foreign forces," Chen said.

He noted that Chinese netizens are wondering online "how in the world would foreign forces be involved in the protests" given the censored internet, the risk of using a virtual private network to bypass the Great Firewall, and the ongoing curbs on outbound tourism.

People hold white sheets of paper in protest over COVID-19 restrictions, after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi, as outbreaks of COVID-19 continue, in Beijing on Nov. 27. Photo: Reuters
People hold white sheets of paper in protest over COVID-19 restrictions, after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi, as outbreaks of COVID-19 continue, in Beijing on Nov. 27. Photo: Reuters

Sheng Xue (盛雪), a participant in the Tiananmen Square movement, said the uprising against COVID restrictions represented the building up of public anger over time driven by the CCP's tightening control over society.

After decades of economic growth, China has been able to use a variety of tech tools to carry out mass surveillance, turning society into a "big prison" where people struggle to live normal lives with dignity, autonomy and privacy, said Sheng, who now resides in Canada.

The public fury bottled up for decades was "bound to explode when the time came," and this time it was sparked by the deadly fire in Urumqi that many people believed the authorities were responsible for, said Sheng, who was also in Taipei to observe the elections.

The Chinese activists called for Taiwan and the international community to speak out in support of the "white paper movement" in China and to urge Chinese authorities to respond to the protests.

Taiwan voicing support for the movement would be significant for China's people because the story of Taiwan being a beacon of democracy disproves the CCP's argument that the Western idea of democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture, Chen said.

According to Han, China's pro-democracy activists have always seen Taiwan as an example for the CCP regime to transition to democracy, but they worry that Taiwan's politically divided society could be vulnerable to cognitive attacks by China, which aims to annex Taiwan by force if necessary.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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Hundreds of Chinese students gather outside the Chinese Consulate-General in Toronto, Canada in support of the “white paper movement” that erupt across China over the past few days. Photo courtesy of Sheng Xue
Hundreds of Chinese students gather outside the Chinese Consulate-General in Toronto, Canada in support of the “white paper movement” that erupt across China over the past few days. Photo courtesy of Sheng Xue
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