Physics equations, white papers, alpacas: a guide to the symbols of China’s COVID protests

Physics equations, blank white sheets of paper, alpacas — these are just some of the symbols protesters in China are using to show dissent amid the government’s handling of COVID policies.

The protests stemmed from a fire that broke out last Thursday in Urumqi, Xinjiang, where at least 10 people died and nine more were injured in an apartment building. Lockdown measures had prevented firefighters from rescuing victims.

In protest against the government’s restrictions on online freedom of expression, blank sheets of white paper have become a prominent symbol among young protesters.

Blank sheets of paper were first used in 2020 by activists in Hong Kong to protest against the national security law that banned slogans used in demonstrations.

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Some Twitter users interpreted the blank sheets as references to the deaths of the 10 factory workers in Urumqi.

Hundreds of student protesters at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Sunday did their part in fighting for freedom by writing out the Friedmann equation, which models the expanding universe, and raising their own pieces of paper. The equation is named after the Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann, whose last name is a wordplay on “freed man.”

Another protester was seen holding up a piece of paper with an exclamation mark inside a red circle, which is an homage to the sign on WeChat that indicates messages have not been delivered.

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Even alpacas were in on the action as one woman led three of the animals along Urumqi road in a nod to the grass mud horse, or cao ni ma, one of the first memes born out of protests in China.

Its name in Chinese is a homonym for an insult that translates to “go f*ck your mother.”.

Online censorship became more strict in 2009, prompting Baidu users to share images of alpacas, or “grass mud horses,” to let their anger be known.

Some protesters put their sarcasm on display as they chanted “More lockdowns” and “I want to do COVID tests.”

One woman walked down a street in Zhejiang holding a piece of white paper while her mouth was closed with black tape and her hands were tied in chains.


Featured Image via @nathanlawkc, @whyyoutouzhele