Banana Peels for Xi Jinping

Nov. 30, 2022

Nicholas Kristof

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist


“There’s a Soviet joke that has long circulated in China, about a man who is arrested for protesting in Moscow’s Red Square by holding up a blank sheet of paper.

“How can you arrest me?” the man objects in one version. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Everybody knows,” the police officer answers, “what you mean to say.”

That old joke was inspiration for some of the white sheets of paper protesters displayed in recent days in China. Everybody in the country knew what the protesters were trying to express but feared saying.

And when everybody can mentally fill in a blank sheet of paper with the frustration and anger that so many ordinary Chinese feel, that’s a challenge that the de facto emperor, Xi Jinping, cannot suppress as easily as he can arrest individual protesters. Xi has meticulously cultivated a personality cult around himself as the kindly “Uncle Xi” — whose slogan could be “Make China Great Again” — but in the major cities it’s now obvious that he’s regarded by many as an obstinate, ruthless and not terribly effective dictator.”