On October 13, Just three days before the opening of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), two handwritten protest banners appeared on Sitong Bridge in Beijing. In plain language, the lone protester called on the government to halt its zero COVID strategy and continue to pursue economic reforms, and pleaded for democracy and the removal of “dictator” Xi Jinping.
In 2018, the authoritarian ruler repeals constitutional term limits and paved the way for him to remain China’s greatest leader indefinitely. At the 20th Party Congress, Xi indeed secured a third term as CCP general secretary and again avoided nominate a potential successor.
Chinese police quickly stopped a person’s protest on the Sitong Bridge. But this rare protest has inspired other actions on social media and in many places around the world. With hashtags like #pasmonpresident, #endxictatorshipand #FreeChinanetizens expressed their anger and disapproval of the Chinese regime and Xi Jinping’s ambition to rule the country for a third term – or even life.
In addition to online activities and social media posts, people began to take action in support of the lone protester in Beijing in replicate and share protest banners with similar messages in public places around the world. Similar banners have been seen on university campuses in the United States, Canada, Australia and many other democratic countries. In China, despite intense government censorship and surveillance measures, people used Apple’s AirDrop feature to send random protest photos to other iPhone users. Others have used a less high-tech method: write messages in public restrooms to evade surveillance cameras and state security personnel. These efforts have garnered more attention from reputable media outlets such as BBC, strait time, CNN, Viceand New York Times.
This is not the first time that online political campaigns against the Chinese regime have garnered significant support. The poster campaign is similar to the great translation movement, which began shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Both campaigns have no specific leadership team or known organizers; they are mainly based on anonymous collection actions with generic requirements.
The poster campaign has the overall goal of sharing and displaying posters calling for an end to authoritarianism in China. People who share similar beliefs act in public places such as college campuses, public parks, and street billboards, all on the basis of their personal will rather than instructions from a centralized authority. .
The poster campaign aims to raise awareness of authoritarianism in China and show protesters’ disapproval of the regime. The campaign was successful in achieving both of these goals. The visible presence of messages, memes and digital content opposed to the Chinese regime have been confronted with key narratives from the Chinese Communist Party. While the CCP pledges to represent the interests of the Chinese people, the posters contradict the regime’s propaganda narratives. The campaign also sends a message to the Chinese government: while it could quickly arrest individuals participating in political protests within its border, government authorities have no means of stopping subsequent protests that will take place in other parts of the world (not that that’s going to stop them to tryas evidenced by the violent attack on protesters outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester).
Faced with threats from the Chinese government mass surveillance regime’s efforts and attempts to intimidate and radiation its overseas diaspora around the world, individuals can better protect their identity and ensure their safety by engaging in anonymous and leaderless campaigns on social media. However, these actions also have their limits. Despite a considerable level of engagement and participation, political campaigns based on social media have limited influence on Chinese government officials and the Chinese leadership team.
Despite the imposition of zero COVID strategy, monitor a slowing economyand lack of clear answers on major national social issues such as fight against human trafficking and violence against women, Xi won a third term at the just-concluded 20th Party Congress. Not only that, but officials loyal to Xi’s leadership received high profile critical roles after the Party Congress, with little resistance inside the country.
A few days after the poster campaign demonstrations, some people began to take the initiative to share tips about organizing in-person rallies and events in major cities around the world. However, he will take other measures to have concrete impacts against the Chinese regime. In addition to organizing protests and demonstrations, activities such as lobbying and direct political participation should also be considered and prioritized to promote democracy and freedom in China.