If it is not possible for citizens to verbalize their views on issues of concern, it may be possible for them to use nonverbal means of expression. That is a necessity for protesters in countries run by authoritarian regimes. Some interesting ways of protesting are emerging from China in recent weeks. That includes protesters waving blank sheets of paper, while others make use of mathematical formulas to make their statements. According to a recent piece in the Guardian, the blank white paper represents censorship, and may also “be read as a reference to the deaths last week of ten people in a building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which was blamed on lockdown restrictions that protestors believe prevented the residents from escaping in time. In China white is a colour used at funerals.” A startling video was posted online of a woman holding a blank piece of paper, with a gag over her mouth and her arms chained. The formula that is being used for protesting is the Friedman equation, which governs the expansion of the universe. There are two symbolic meanings here as well. The first is that the pronunciation of Friedman is similar to “free的man” (free man), a cry for personal freedom. The second is the idea of “opening up” which relates to the meaning of the formula, symbolically referring to the need for the Chinese government to free cities from COVID lockdowns.
The public protests are very unusual in China, where even peaceful demonstrations are quickly broken up. It’s also remarkable that the protests are being held in many cities across China. As one might expect, the universities in China have seen numerous protests. As a result, many of them have been closed down and students sent back home. While the most recent protests have been sparked by the fire in Xinjiang, they have gone beyond calling for Covid lookdowns to be eased, with calls for not just freedom of expression, especially online, but even for the ouster of leader Xi Jinping. In China, those are dangerous opinions to voice.