A Lonely Protest in Beijing Inspires Young Chinese to Find Their Voice

As beginner dissenters, they’re timid and scared. But they are experiencing a quiet political awakening, unhappy about censorship, repression and “zero Covid.”

Li Yuan

By Li Yuan

Oct. 24, 2022Updated 8:00 a.m. ET

“A protester unfurled two banners on a highway overpass in central Beijing on Oct. 13, denouncing Xi Jinping as a “despotic traitor.” China’s censors went to great lengths to scrub the internet of any reference to the act of dissent, prohibiting all discussion and shutting down many offending social media accounts.

The slogans didn’t go away. Instead, they caught on inside and outside China, online and offline.

Encouraged by the Beijing protester’s extremely rare display of courage, young Chinese are using creative ways to spread the banners’ anti-Xi messages. They graffitied the slogans in public toilets in China. They used Apple’s AirDrop feature to send photos of the messages to fellow passengers’ iPhones in subway cars. They posted the slogans on university campuses all over the world. They organized chat groups to bond and shouted “Remove Xi Jinping” in front of Chinese embassies. This all happened while the Communist Party was convening an all-important congress in Beijing and putting forth an image of a country singularly united behind a great leader.”