As protesters took to the streets in more than a dozen Chinese cities last weekend in anti-lockdown protests sparked by a deadly fire in Urumqi, amid calls for Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to step down, students in overseas universities soon followed suit.
While Chinese nationals who amplify or respond to anti-government sentiment overseas risk bringing trouble down on the heads of loved ones back home, some have said they were inspired by recent protests to the point of responding with actions of their own.
Guo Hu, a 42-year-old Chinese man currently studying computing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently spoke to RFA’s Mandarin Service about why he helped to organize a rally in solidarity with recent protests in China at which demonstrators held up blank sheets of paper in a mute protest at COVID-19 restrictions and curbs on freedom of speech:
RFA: How did you come to organize this protest?
Guo Hu: Strictly speaking, I wasn’t the only organizer, because there were students at Duke who were involved too. The first time I dared to express my views on political events was after Mr. Peng Lifa’s protest on the Sitong Bridge. His actions made me feel like a coward. I was very encouraged by the fact that Peng was able to accomplish this all by himself, in a regulatory environment with strict controls on speech, under the kind of ‘stability maintenance’ system they have in mainland China.
Back then, I was still a little hesitant. I didn’t want to show my face. I just printed out some posters and put them up around campus. While I was doing that, I found that I wasn’t alone, and that several of my fellow students were doing the same thing.
So why did I decide to show my face after the fire in Urumqi on Nov. 24? Partly due to the courage given to me by Mr. Peng Lifa and partly by the young woman who was the first to hold up a blank sheet of paper at the Nanjing Institute of Communication. That’s why I decided to do this, so we held a rally at Duke … to show our support [for the protesters] and our opposition to the unscientific and barbaric zero-COVID policy.
The next day I saw in Duke’s college newspaper that around 100 Chinese students from various universities had shown up, as well as Chinese people from the local community. None of us expected so many to come.
So now we know. The desire of the Chinese people for freedom and democracy has never gone away. It has just been suppressed by the Communist Party’s brutal stability maintenance system and by internet censorship.
RFA: As a Chinese student studying abroad, what do you think of the calls for Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to step down?
Guo Hu: I never expected to hear those slogans. Back when I left China to come to the United States, it was because I was very disappointed with the way things were in China. I never thought I would hear anyone shouting such slogans in my lifetime. It was exciting to hear protesters shouting these things in China.
In the past, the Communist Party was like a big banker sitting at a poker table and controlling the game. Thirty-three years ago, at the time of the June 4, 1989 crackdown, it ignored what the students opposing it were saying … and called in the tanks. But the general public in mainland China has earned the right to equal dialogue in this white paper revolution, and we’re in the game. The bankers daren’t turn the tables on us this time.
The most important thing about the white paper movement is that it has shown us a very effective way to fight back against the Communist Party, and win.
RFA: What do you think of the government’s blaming of the protests on “foreign forces?”
Guo Hu: This is obviously just one of the Communist Party’s set phrases. In one video posted to Twitter from Beijing, the protesters on the ground were laughing back [at someone saying this] saying “how are foreign forces supposed to contact us, if we can’t even get online?”
RFA: Will the white paper revolution become a color revolution like those in eastern Europe and Central Asia?
Guo Hu: I think that would be hard from a practical point of view. This is a decentralized movement, and it’s hard for a decentralized movement to have a revolutionary impact in the face of a powerful centralized machinery like that of the CCP. I will say that it is of historical significance. It’s just a prelude. I don’t think it will turn into a color revolution in the short term, but maybe in the future.
RFA: Now that you’ve appeared in public, do you still plan to return to China? Do you worry that your family and friends will be targeted by the Chinese government?
Guo Hu: It could make it hard for me to go back to China, to be honest. I’m a little worried about my family and friends back in China, but I’m an adult now. I’m in my forties, and I take full responsibility for my actions. I’m free to express my views – I’m giving this interview, after all. If the Communist Party wants to target me, they should deal with me directly, not my family or friends.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.