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“Bridge Man” Crackdown in China Inspires New Types of Protest

Some use Apple Airdrop, some use flash graffiti in public washrooms, with the basic message that Xi JinPing should retire

“Bridge Man,” the lone Chinese guy (Peng Lifa) who hung a protest sign on the Sitong Bridge some days ago — days before the CCP’s scheduled fifth-year meeting — triggered intense efforts to ban all words from China’s internet and other media that referred to the incident. But political censorship is a tricky business, especially where human beings are concerned.

Even the Proper Authorities can’t think of everything… we are informed at VICE that posters denouncing China’s top leader Xi JinPing have been distributed via Apple’s Airdrop

A Shanghai resident was riding the metro on Tuesday when an AirDrop notification popped up on his iPhone: “‘Xi Jinping’s iPhone’ would like to share a photo.”

Curious, the man accepted the request and received an image denouncing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule. “Oppose dictatorship, oppose totalitarianism, oppose autocracy,” some of the characters on the poster read.

Rachel Cheung, “Anti-Xi Jinping Posters Are Spreading in China via AirDrop” at VICE (October 19, 2022)

In much of the world, “Vote for Smith, not Jones!” would be a common type of message, come election time. But the Shanghai resident told Vice World News that he had never seen anything like it before.

AirDrop works only among Apple devices and at close range but it’s currently hard to trace:

It appears to be one of the ways Chinese people are adapting to get around censorship. Graffiti in public toilets is another:

Photos of anti-Xi graffiti scrawled in public toilets in mainland China echoing Peng’s call for direct elections, an end to the zero-COVID policy and to Xi’s dictatorship have been circulating on Twitter since last week.

One of the photos said the graffiti was seen in the men’s toilets of the Beijing Film Archive movie theater.

Another, which largely repeated the slogans on one of Peng’s banners, was attributed to the men’s toilets at the Nanhu Interchange on the Chengdu Metro, in the provincial capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan.

“Free Chengdu, revolution now!” the slogan added, in a variation on the signature slogan of the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Social media users posted photos of similar graffiti in Xuzhou, in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Jenny Tang , “Overseas solidarity with Beijing ‘bridge man’ protest sparks fears of retaliation” at Global Security/Radio Free Asia (October 19, 2022)

While, in a total surveillance environment, the toilets would be surveyed, like everything else, that probably isn’t an attractive duty for security personnel. So it presents an opportunity for a protestor who appears and disappears swiftly and is hard to identify. Thus “Bridge Man’s” slogans have “clandestinely” appeared in at least eight Chinese cities.

Of course, protests outside of China are letting the world know:

Banners demanding “free China” and “democracy now” were hung down from a window of the University of California, Berkeley, and spread via images posted by a social media activism group.

A handwritten poster at Colby College in the US state of Maine read: “We, people of China, want to spread this message that speaks our mind in places without censorship.”

Protest signs have appeared at Stanford, Emory and Parsons School of Design in the US as well as in Camberwell, Goldsmiths and Kings College in London.

A poster, purportedly at the University of Melbourne, said: “Hi Xi Jinping. It’s time to retire!”

The social media accounts are using hashtags like #EndXictatorship and #FreeChina to lead online protests.

A similar protest sign at the University of Toronto sparked a counter poster which rebutted the anti-Xi message and defended the Chinese leader on the noticeboard.

IntellAsia.net, “‘Bridge Man’: How activist’s rare anti-Xi message in China is inspiring solidarity protests around the world” at Independent (October 21, 2022)

But for Chinese nationals abroad, protest comes with severe risk:

“The fear is real, even for people who are living overseas,” an administrator of CitizensdailyCN told VICE World News, speaking anonymously to protect their identity.

“The risk for a Chinese to voice out is jail time or not being able to see their parents for the rest of their life. All of these make it extraordinarily crucial for us to figure out ways to get connected,” they said, noting that for many Chinese students who participated, it is the first time they are taking political action in the public sphere.

Rachel Cheung, “Anti-Xi Jinping Posters Are Spreading in China via AirDrop” at VICE (October 19, 2022)

China’s international reach is much broader than many realize and many governments co-operate with it:

In the battle between the AI-driven Total Surveillance State worldwide and honest opinion, we are bound to see new forms of protest.


You may also wish to read: Words disappear from the Chinese language — online at least. Beijing seeks to scrub all mention of any words that could be associated with a lone protester hanging a banner on a bridge. If you knew all the words and music that had suddenly been banned, you might easily guess the nature of the event. That’s a perennial pitfall of censorship.


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“Bridge Man” Crackdown in China Inspires New Types of Protest