After more than 100 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, the government finally lifted restrictions in late November. But the decision did not come without a fight. Days before the lockdown was lifted, mass protests erupted across the country. The protests began after a fire at an apartment complex named Jixiangyuan in Urumqi, Xinjiang, claimed the lives of 10 residents and injured nine.
Immediately, outrage grew across the country and abroad.
Citizens from across the country gathered to mourn the deceased and protest against the regime. The protests were named after the size of the blank sheets of paper citizens were waving: “A4Revolution” or the “White Paper Revolution.” The blank sheets of paper being held symbolize citizens voiceless due to the regime’s phenomenon of repetitively censoring citizens’ words to satisfy the regime’s values and agenda.
posted by @SiminaMistreanu on Twitter shows people chanting for freedom and basic human rights in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – the site of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and massacre, known as one of the most popular protest movements. most notable in China.
Crowd of at least 100 making its way to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Sunday night, chanting, “We want universal values,” “We want freedom, equality, democracy, rule of law,” “We don’t want dictatorship,” “We don’t want personality cult.” pic.twitter.com/JSW7OHMIAG— Simina Mistreanu (@SiminaMistreanu) November 27, 2022
On Weibo, most content about the protest has been censored. But users have used foreign social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to raise awareness. People all over the world held up blank sheets of paper to show their solidarity with Chinese citizens.
In America, Chinese international students gathered on their campuses to show their support for the people of their home country.
On December 2, a https://twitter.com/xinyan_fu/status/1597000199620419584?s=20&t=YqkhfHq-U9qTBefjh7rfgw was led by @xinyan_fu in Tiananmen Memorial Park, Boston.
A video from @WEI_ATHENA1 showed
students standing in Washington Square Park. The students circled the candles in the middle and shouted anti-regime slogans demanding basic human rights.
一群中国学生在纽约支援抗议— WEI （雅典娜農場） (@WEI_ATHENA1) November 28, 2022
Many Chinese students in New York City tonight to support the pro-democracy protesters in China and Chating:
No lockdown,but freedom!
No lies, but dignity!
No Cultural Revolution, but reform!
No supreme leaders, but votes!
No slaves, but citizens! pic.twitter.com/2ccCT55Vas
posted photos of students crowded on the stairs in front of the library. The university’s alma mater statue’s eyes were covered in a red mask and its neck bore the name of a street in Shanghai – one of the main protest sites – named after Urumqi. This act is meant to symbolize the regime’s act of composure and restraint that led to such a serious consequence as the fire.
Huge protest against the #CCP at Columbia tonight.— Daniel Di Martino 🇺🇸🇻🇪 (@DanielDiMartino) November 29, 2022
Amazed at the bravery of my fellow Columbia students who are from China and risk their families and themseleves for freedom. pic.twitter.com/FKzBkvedzb
According to Xinjiang Daily, officials said a power strip caught fire on the fifteenth floor. The fire immediately spread to the seventeenth floor and smoke spread to the twenty-first floor.
Netizens immediately suspected the casualties were the result of China’s extremely strict lockdown policy that prohibits residents of high-risk areas from entering or leaving the building. This difficulty added to the residents’ escape as several doors were locked. Screenshots of conversations between residents, videos and photos of locked doors and people shouting to open doors were circulating online.
In the Xinjiang Daily, officials have refuted the allegation. They said that since November 12, the Jinxiangyuan community has been classified as a low-risk area, meaning residents have been able to use the building freely. A resident described that “on the 23rd and 24th, I went down for a walk. I saw adults exercising and children playing.
Urumqi Mayor Memtimin Qadir held a press conference during which he apologized to Urumqi civilians and promised an investigation into the matter.
Yet many are still skeptical of the “low risk area” declaration. On November 26, at 6 a.m. Beijing time, authorities released 273 additional high-risk areas in Urumqi. But shortly after the blaze made headlines, at 10:21 a.m. officials announced that daily cases in Urumqi had dropped to nearly zero.
Footage was also circulating showing fire engines unable to get close to the building. Officials said the reason was because of the layout of the parking route and barriers. They said the entrance was too narrow for the truck to enter; the removal of cars and metal fencing placed to manually separate vehicles and pedestrians slowed the rescue.
Jixiangyuan Parking Route Google Map
“Are metal fences ready to regulate the pandemic? A user asked.
“The cars have been parked there for more than 100 days. Car owners can’t even get off. Another spoke.
“Why don’t you let us see the surveillance footage of the building, the apartment complex and the hallway?” A netizen asked.
A netizen found evidence of a fire drill that took place in August 2021 in Urumqi. The drill succeeded in extinguishing a fire that occurred on the 16th to 18th floors of the Huifeng building. The floor levels correspond to the floor level of the apartment. The water was able to reach 197 feet high and the firefighter used a 180 foot ladder for rescue.
“The Urumqi Fire Department has all the equipment and techniques it needs. There’s no excuse they can’t rescue people. The netizen underlined.
Blame the victims
At a press conference held on Nov. 25, the words of Urumqi City Fire Rescue Department Chief Li Wensheng infuriated the public. He summarized that the residents had “poor self-rescue abilities” and “were unfamiliar with the emergency exit route” and “were not able to effectively extinguish the fire and s ‘escape at the right time’.
“Now they blame the civilians. I am speechless.” A surfer exclaimed.
“I really don’t understand why any government would make such a case the fault of the victims.” Another user described their confusion.
“I sincerely wonder that even if we are not in a pandemic, what kind of heart does this person have to condemn the victims because they are too weak to defend themselves?” A stressed user.
What’s in the future?
The White Paper Revolution protests marked the first large-scale anti-regime movements since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and massacre.
Although the responsibility of the victim remains to be assessed, it is undeniable that the fire is a trigger for the resentment accumulated by civilians for years.