Summary: This report from within China details the “white paper” protests that broke out there in late November—called thusly since many held up blank sheets of paper during the protests in response to the regime’s extreme repression of even the mildest questioning of the system or expression of dissent. – Editors
The development of the recent protests in China is beyond everyone’s expectations. In this totalitarian country the working people have finally found their voice. As the famous American anarcho-syndicalist Bill Haywood once said, any protest and strike is the kindling of revolution.
China’s large-scale containment policy in dealing with the pandemic results from the weakness of its medical system. Of course, one cannot say that European and American countries have abundant medical resources in the face of this pandemic. But in ordinary democratic republics, such a large-scale lockdown as China has experienced would inevitably give rise to mass protests, which is something all bourgeois leaders do not want to see. So, they try to keep the economy running. But in a totalitarian country like China, there is no bourgeois democracy that allows for mass protests. Coupled with the lack of medical facilities, China chose lockdown and control, and no one dared oppose it—until the emergence of the white paper revolution.
What needs to be explained is that lockdown and control is actually the least costly option for the government. Some people say China sacrificed its economy for the sake of battling the pandemic, but in fact it did more than anything to expose the nature of its bourgeois capitalism. Due to the lockdown, a large number of workers were laid off, and the unemployment rate is now as high as 20 percent. Workers who remained on the job were forced to reduce their wages by 30 to 40 percent to keep their jobs. Due to the ebb of the large-scale economy, many small and medium-sized enterprises closed down, and these enterprises have been acquired by large enterprises at extremely low prices. Due to the economic downturn many real estate companies even blew up newly-built buildings that they couldn’t find renters for.
Given the shortage of medical care, Xi Jinping’s Communist Party authorities decided to build shelter hospitals—which are really not hospitals at all—for those who have been “diagnosed” as positive for Covid-19. In isolated areas there is no medical equipment of any kind. The only thing available is traditional Chinese medicine, or worse—hot water!
Still worse, many Chinese find themselves locked up in their communities. Dozens of cops block the way to the streets and you can’t get any supplies. The extremely high cost of daily necessities makes it difficult for ordinary families to afford basics. When a person tests positive, the whole community is sealed off—even the people who need to be transported to shelter hospitals for isolation. If a single positive case is found among college students, the entire dormitory building is sealed off. Since everyone is quarantined together, if you are infected with the pandemic, you will not get any effective treatment. Many workers were locked into their factories. All workers who tested positive had to be taken to isolation, and those who tested negative had to work every day, otherwise there would be no food supply. For those in isolation, there is no medical treatment, no one to take care of them, and even the food is of extremely poor quality.
When the first wave of Foxconn workers resisted the containment policy by walking out, the authorities forced villages and towns near Zhengzhou to hand over more workers to its factories. Foxconn offered them a wage of 30 yuan an hour, but later changed its mind and told them they would not be paid until March 15, 2023, so the second wave of Foxconn worker uprisings broke out.
The containment policy has enabled a large number of government officials and capitalists to gain huge profits, since the workers who build the shelter hospitals are forced to accept low wages. What is even more shocking is that in many cases the bureaucrats and capitalists do not hesitate to send red codes to people and/or allow testing companies to produce fake positive results. The Communist government recruits gangsters, hooligans, and thugs as security personnel and pays them 300 yuan a day (this is considered a relatively high salary). This industrial-medical system has allowed profit margins to rise to? at least 46%—not counting the real estate developers who build the shelter hospitals.
The fire in Urumqi directly triggered the protests. During the fire, people found their doors were tightly welded by the authorities in order to prevent them from going out. The masses could not bear this kind of blockade, and on the night of November 25, the white paper revolution quietly started.
Electronic Blockade and Atomization
For contemporary China, such protests are unprecedented. China has the most complete monitoring system of public opinion in the world. To understand the reasons for these protests, we must analyze the Chinese Internet censorship system.
China has more than one method of electronic surveillance; electronic probes cover virtually every street. With such strict surveillance, small-scale protests are almost impossible, since their participants will quickly be found and arrested by the police. Therefore, only large-scale collective action can stand a chance.
Moreover, protests and demonstrations in China are basically bare-handed; we have no way to get weapons (guns and ammunition are strictly controlled in China, even hidden kitchen knives are not allowed in Xinjiang and Tibet). In order to prevent protesters from discussing the protests or saying something unfavorable about the authorities, many web pages require real-name registration. When one applies for phone cards and bank cards, takes transportation and buys things, one is required to show real-name registration with an ID card. Moreover, in order to further strengthen monitoring, the Chinese government not only censors major media and software, but also formulates special laws that punish those who speak out for freedom, so that any trace of dissatisfaction must be expressed in an extremely cryptic form. Moreover, in order to prevent working people from browsing the internet, the Chinese police requires students, workers and employees to install software called the National Anti-Fraud Center, in which your mobile phone personal information is made available to the government. And many areas have a whitelist system—only websites allowed by the government can be accessed, even if you have a VPN.
China’s information surveillance system has developed to a jaw-dropping level. On any chat software, there is a censorship mechanism. It will be reviewed according to your chat partner and content. There are several grades, among which video is the highest, followed by pictures, and then chat content. This poses also a problem for protesters: it is difficult to use any software to communicate. Also, mobile phones such as Huawei, Xiaomi, and OPPO have built-in tracking systems, and the current health code is gradually implementing the docking function with the base station, which is equivalent to someone watching you wherever you go.
China’s electronic warfare model is expanding. Electronic warfare is no longer directed at those calling for free speech; it now targets “misleading” statements, smearing officials, citing invalid information, etc. In other words, totalitarianism is entering everyone’s life.
Any kind of criticism of the general principles of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as criticism of the party itself and modern Chinese history, are banned. In China’s current online world, there is no serious content except patriotism and chauvinism expressed by the petty-bourgeoisie, lies deliberately fabricated by the government, and entertainment and gossip that have nothing to do with real life. This trend is not only in China, but also abroad: Chinese embassies and consulates continue to harass overseas Chinese and threaten foreign journalists who report on its domestic situation.
According to those arrested during protests, the police deprive them of sleep during interrogation and use torture to extract confessions (such as kicking the stomach, slapping the palm, sitting on a tiger stool; some were even beaten to a concussion). To make matters worse, the most common method used by the police is to threaten family members. One lawyer resisted threats against him, but when the police brought in his son and beat him in front of him, the father couldn’t bear not to confess to what they accused him of.
National Minorities and Women
China’s white paper revolution originated from a family in Urumqi who failed to escape the fire due to the pandemic prevention and control—because their door was blocked and so were the fire exits. This protest then spread all the way from Urumqi to Shanghai, and from Harbin to Guangzhou. On November 26, on Urumqi Middle Road in Shanghai, people spontaneously took to the streets to protest. The police immediately started arresting people. But the most remarkable thing is that no matter where such protests exist, it is women who are at the forefront of them. They are female students, female employees, and female workers. On Urumqi Middle Road in Shanghai, a girl desperately protected those who were taken away by the police until she was pushed to the ground by three or four policemen and sent to a police car. A large-scale protest then occurred in front of the Shanghai police station demanding the release of arrested demonstrators. The next day, a man held flowers in Urumqi Middle Road and gave a speech. He was escorted into a police car and rescued by residents.
Police began to block roads after the protest ended. But the crowd still stood at the intersection of Urumqi Middle Road and Anfu Road. The Communist Party immediately mobilized a large number of police vehicles and even tanks to suppress the protests. They sent in plainclothes police to infiltrate the people and divide them, but they were seen by the people and escorted out. It is reported that the police recruited many underworld gangs, rewarding them with 3,500 RMB for arresting a protester, and 500 RMB for one day of standing guard. A woman was slapped in the face by the police for keeping silent during the police questioning. But even so, the people of Shanghai still flocked to Urumqi Middle Road without fear.
At night, there were still a large number of protesters holding blank white pieces of paper and shouting “The Communist Party step down!”, “Democracy,” “Freedom,” and “Don’t block speech.” At 11:00 pm, people shouted “oppose the dictatorship, and bring down Xi Jinping, the traitor of the dictatorship.” A policeman yelled at the crowd, “I just can’t understand you people!” Then, in a scene that shocked the world, the street sign of “Urumqi Middle Road” was removed and discarded.
At the same time, on Zhongshan Avenue and Hanzheng Street in Wuhan, people took to the streets. In Panlong City, the people demanded that the lockdown be lifted. In Taiyuan, Shanxi, people gave speeches on the streets. In Guangzhou and Dongguan, two cities inhabited by large numbers of manufacturing workers, the masses held glass bottles and iron bars, knocked down the sealing fence, and threw everything they could throw at the police; in Panyu District of Guangzhou, university students and workers protested against the police; in Baiyun District, Guangzhou, the crowd rushed the police and clashed with them continuously; in Nanting University Town, students clashed with the police as well.
At the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, students gave impassioned speeches denouncing the totalitarian dictatorship of the Communist Party. When the police started making arrests, even roadside fruit shops were scrupulously searched. In Chengdu, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand the lifting of the lockdown and the resignation of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party, demanding “freedom of speech and freedom of the press”; students at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music shouted “Don’t be a dictatorship!” On Nanyaotou Road in Xi’an, protesters were arrested indiscriminately, and many were beaten. At Liangmaqiao in Beijing, a socialist shouted “Down with revisionism!” and people sang “Farewell.” In the Lixia district of Jinan, people rushed to the police holding steel frames, demanding that the lockdown be lifted.
In fact, this does not count the protests at Chinese universities. More than 100 universities participated in the protests. The Chinese government has adopted a common two-faced approach to protesters: First arrest those who chant slogans and interrogate them severely; second, pretend to relax the pandemic prevention policy, but in fact still require nucleic acid testing when going out. And more importantly, the Chinese government does not seem to be willing to stop building shelter hospitals.
The Totalitarian System and Conspiracy Theories
We all know that in a state like China, protests, strikes and demonstrations are extremely costly. But many middle-class people have a fanatical admiration for this regime (a bit like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin). In the nearly 10 years since Xi Jinping came to power, there has been endless propaganda in favor of nationalism and chauvinism. In fact, much of the middle class approves of this: in their eyes, national stability, economic growth and prosperity are extremely important. And they presuppose imaginary enemies—thinking that Western liberal democracy will destroy this system and plunge China into a “color revolution.” This kind of conspiracy theory is very popular.
It must be explained that anti-democratic propaganda is so prevalent in China that even many leftists believe that democracy is dispensable and a trick of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the propaganda of the Chinese government and state media on this issue is very contradictory—on the one hand, it promotes the effectiveness of Chinese-style “democracy” (everyone knows that is an official hypocrisy), and on the other hand, it opposes liberal democracy. What is the Chinese-style democracy they preach? It is nothing more than “selection + election”—that is, the candidates for elections are strictly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
As Marx said in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in modern society the subjective person is objectified and becomes a mere organ of the state. The state has subjectivity and personality, while the people are treated as objects and depersonalized. In China, Xi Jinping and other CCP bureaucrats have become gods with hands and eyes. This shows their contemptuous attitude towards the people. The voices of the masses are ignored and suppressed, and the subjectivity of the state, its specific individuality, is regarded as embodied in the party. “Every human being is an individual thing, and human beings are individual things, so human beings should be ruled by one person”—this is the logic of the party-state elites.
The irrationality of these statists is fully manifested in how they denounce the “color revolutions” in the Middle East and elsewhere while not mentioning the oppression and exploitation suffered by the working people in these areas. When they rise up to resist, these critics of democracy say they have been bewitched. However, during this white paper revolution, the Chinese could not even access the overseas Internet, nor could they leave the country, and no foreign forces contacted them, so which foreign force instigated them—the moon?
Aren’t the Chinese Communist Party, the American Republican Party, and the extreme right-wing elements of the British Conservative Party all like this? Aren’t they all vying to be the guardians of the “working class”?
What Lies Ahead
The protests can be said to be the starting point of a new Chinese politics. The key question now is whether these protests can be sustained—and how.
The protests have taught us many lessons, such as how to face the police and build personal confidence in face of repression. But it also indicates that without an internal and proletarian left-wing intellectual organization, it is very difficult to sustain a movement in the long run. It is not that the masses do not have thought and reason, but that this thought and reason must become the ground of further action. If intellectuals do not use their skills to establish an inner connection with the proletariat, it becomes harder to achieve this.
Chinese workers are still being squeezed by Foxconn and other sweatshops, and women and sexual minorities are still being discriminated against. China has imposed increasingly strict controls on homosexual expression and transgender rights. Uighurs still suffer extreme repression, as do other ethnic minorities. Protests cannot be restricted to a small number of citizens, but need to include workers, women, sexual minorities and oppressed ethnic groups. The white paper protests have yet to be painted with the color of liberation. This is only the beginning of the demise of Xi Jinping and the party-state behind him.