The last time when the paper came under the news spotlight, was about the Sri Lankan school authorities canceling exams because the government failed to afford papers in March 2022. This time, the same item got caught between the government and the people again in China. It can all be traced back to the fatal tragedy in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the COVID policy restricted the rescue of a deadly fire at a local residential building. Furthermore, numerous inhumane accidents caused by the zero-covid policy happened across the nation over the past years. After being locked down for more than two years, crowds started to gather, sobbing about the loss and demanding lesser restrictions. On one hand, white is a color of purity. On the other hand, it is also the color of the funeral in Chinese culture. Protesters in Hong Kong held the same tactics against the authorities during the forcibly passed national security law back in 2020. It is crystal clear that when everyone (including the government) knows the Message, there is really no need to write anything down.
As cheap as a sheet of blank paper can be, it plays a vital role in all the precious moments of our lives. From birth certificates to diplomas, it is the easiest way to prove our existence and achievements without a doubt. When the officials lift their hands to sign signatures on the paper, it bears contractual agreements affecting individuals, corporations, and nations. Paper has always been the container of political power moves. If we can take the ink out of it, the manufacturing process is already quite controversial with pollution and deforestation concerns. In my eyes, a piece of paper might help the protesters hold their anonymity and neutrality against police surveillance, it is no longer pure and innocent.
As of November 29, 2022, rumor has it that one of the biggest stationery companies will stop selling the A4 paper to customers in China due to the unprecedented demands in major cities. The supplier issued a statement saying all operations remained normal and strongly condemned the recent ‘white paper movement’ shortly after its stock fell. However, people still report unsuccessful attempts to purchase A4 paper in various cities. We seldom think that a common object like paper would become a rare commodity one day. Even in the age of TikTok videos and Instagram stories, we still prefer to hold a physical object in our hand on the streets. A piece of paper is indeed the most economic item that almost everyone can access. Now the Chinese police decided to check citizens’ smartphones for any trace of evidence of sharing or participating in the protests. I wonder if obtaining paper also became a sense of fear.
The paper’s presence in protests is not novel, but maybe we can discuss where it goes after the event. Do people reuse paper even when it has nothing written on it? This question remains rent-free in my head.
Dec 8th 2022