Why China's COVID protesters hold up blank paper

STORY: The rare protests erupting in Chinese cities and universities - sparked by the country's strict, ongoing COVID lockdowns - are seeing protesters turn to an unusual symbol of defiance: holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Why? Because the bits of paper are as much a symbol as it's also a tactic to avoid arrest or running foul of the country's censorship laws.

Widespread protests like this one at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University have been unprecedented under President Xi Jinping, whose government has all but eliminated public displays of dissent.

The woman is shouting, "Stop performing oral sex to public power."

In Shanghai, these people are chanting "Down with the Communist Party" and Xi Jinping.

China's social media platforms are heavily censored, forcing citizens into cat-and-mouse games to get around it. In online chat rooms seen by Reuters protesters are being advised to bring a sheet of blank paper to a demonstration, but the hashtag "white paper exercise" has already been blocked on at least one site.

In Hong Kong two years ago, protesters also used blank paper as a response to the city's ban on certain protest slogans, and the tactic has recently spread to Moscow in protests against the war in Ukraine.