Hutong, DJ bar, youth, and unexpected politics: the detained “Blank Paper” protesters of Beijing

An intimate look at the youth detained for their first public moment in the face of systematic suppression.

An insightful and intimate look at the young people detained for protesting Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy in central Beijing’s Liangmaqiao district after a deadly apartment block fire served as a catalyst for public anger. Throughout this account by Chinese journalist Su Nian (a new pen name), many will recognize the missing youth as young people anywhere with an interest in new experiences, social injustice and learning from and growing alongside each other. For these particular youth – described as not especially political, let alone activists, the Liangmaqiao event was their first public moment, stirred by the “daily barrage of absurd and tragic stories” as a result of endless lockdowns.

We are reminded here that young people are ingenious at finding ways to commune with each other as a means to understand their world and, hopefully, change it, even in times of lockdown and under systematic suppression. A brutal government cannot crush a certain eternal, unadulterated wisdom particular to the young, the vibrancy of their expression and dreams, and the power of their questions. It is the birthright of youth at any time and place throughout history; long may they innovate.

By Su Nian, published by China Change

Based on the information we have been able to gather so far about the protesters in Liangmaqiao (亮马桥), Beijing, on November 27, 2022, it seems that the Chinese police have set their eyes mostly on two groups of people: a circle of young women and a small community of DJ bar owners and musicians. We’ve since learned more about the former, but little about the latter. Nor do we have a precise idea how many have been formally arrested in Beijing and elsewhere. This article by a Chinese journalist (Su Nian is a new pen name she’s adopted) is a much-needed attempt to understand the young protesters beyond their names and jobs: who they are, how they feel and think, and what their lives are like. The translation that follows is a trimmed version of the Chinese original. — The Editors   

Protesters in Liangmaqiao, Beijing, on Nov. 27, 2022Photo: DW

On the morning of January 20, the day before Lunar New Year’s Eve, 27-year-old Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨) met her lawyer for the first time after being detained for twenty-nine days. In the meeting room of Beijing’s Chaoyang District (朝阳区) Detention Center, she wore the facility’s winter inmate uniforms —a khaki coat and padded gray pants. 

Two days prior, some time after 11 p.m., a number of participants in the “memorial activity at Liangma river” (亮马河) being held in the detention center were released on bail. Among them were journalists Yang Liu (杨柳) and Qin Ziyi (秦梓奕), but not Cao,  an editor at Peking University Press. Meanwhile, she and some close peers — Li Yuanjing (李元婧), Zhai Dengrui (翟登蕊), and Li Siqi (李思琪) — were formally arrested. Their charges were changed from “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” (聚众扰乱公共场所秩序) to “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事). 

Cao Zhixin was crushed by the news of her formal arrest. The idea that she would end up in jail for taking part in a mere memorial activity was difficult to digest. When the lawyer brought greetings from her family and boyfriend, Zhixin couldn’t hold back her tears.

She didn’t know, before seeing the lawyer, that the video she’d recorded before her arrest and had been released after her arrest had reached a worldwide audience. In it, she related a premonition about what might happen to her and others at the protest scene: “All we young people did was mourn our fellow Chinese. Why do we have to pay the price of being disappeared?” “What are the qualifications of the people arresting us?”

Continue reading at the publisher’s website

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