Demonstrators gathered in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and other cities on Sunday to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of a Chinese whistleblower doctor who warned about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist, died on Feb. 7, 2020, from contracting the virus shortly after warning his colleagues about the COVID virus.
He was silenced by Chinese authorities for spreading rumors when the outbreak began.
Three years later, many people regard him as a symbol for freedom of speech in China.
“This is a really important event because it’s not really just for him,” said Viola, a recent graduate of New York University who requested not to reveal her last name.
“It’s also for a lot of the people who passed away in the past three years because of the evil COVID-19 policy that the CCP government forced on its people,” she said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
In the months after the outbreak, President Xi Jinping enacted a strict zero-COVID policy and ordered lockdowns in many cities across the country.
Authorities lifted the restrictions in December after protests around the country in late November dubbed the “white paper” movement because of the blank white papers that protesters held up to show their dissatisfaction with the lockdowns as well as limits on freedom of speech.
Viola explained that authorities couldn’t ban protesters from holding up blank sheets of paper, and yet they also became a symbol of self-expression and resistance against the government.
“That’s kind of the whole image of the revolution,” she said. “It means we don’t even have to display what’s on our paper. We just have to hold it up and you will know exactly what we’re saying.”
Viola had never experienced political demonstrations growing up in mainland China and found it comforting to join a community where her voice could be heard.
“It’s really special to be able to come here and … talk about these issues and to understand that this has been a collective trauma,” said Viola.
Zhou Fengsuo, president of Humanitarian China, said the white paper movement was the largest demonstrations in China since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
“This was definitely the first time that I’m seeing such a deep, profound change in the young people,” said Zhou. “They are awakening to their true identity. They have transformed themselves through protesting, through calling for freedom in China.”
Zhou said he was hopeful for the younger generation, that they might bring change.
He quoted one of Dr. Li’s final utterances: “A healthy society cannot have only one voice.”
“As the pandemic is ending globally, we must remember what happened,” Zhou said. “Because there is no freedom in China, the whole world has paid a deep price for it.”