Hundreds of San Jose residents and advocates are speaking out in support of changing government policies in China, but longlasting change still seems distant, residents said.
More than 500 people gathered in front of San Jose City Hall last week, singing songs and sharing stories. The crowd stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with protesters in China who are demanding the government address ongoing COVID-19 mandates that have hampered lives and businesses.
Residents in China flooded the streets last week in a movement known as the “White Paper Revolution” or “A4 Revolution,” as protesters held up blank sheets of paper to demonstrate disapproval of China’s COVID policies—while adhering to the country’s censorship laws. The show of dissent against China’s government is unprecedented, local community members said.
“People have long feared speaking up, even here in the states, because of their family members in China,” Yvonne Kwan, program coordinator for Asian American Studies at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight. “But more and more so, we see people not personally or directly connected also being pushed to fight… We here in the U.S. are in a privileged position to not only speak out, but also learn about the policies and impacts while the Chinese-backed social media have either been censored or rife with misinformation.”
Social media has played a critical role in keeping everyone connected and active, Kwan said. The strong protest showings in San Jose reveal the ties the city’s Asian American community still has to family members in countries like China. Some residents are also first generation immigrants with more immediate ties to overseas countries, she added. During the pandemic, Chinese American organizations worked alongside individuals from China to raise more than $930,000 to purchase masks, gloves and other medical supplies.
An apartment fire that killed 10 people broke out on Nov. 24 in Urumqi in the Xinjiang province, in a neighborhood mostly made up of Uyghurs, a religious and ethnic minority that has faced persecution from the Chinese government. The incident struck a nerve and protests ensued over COVID barriers around the building that prevented the fire department from responding quickly.
People in China have had enough, and the lives lost during the Urumqi fire were the final straw, said Clay Zhu, an attorney who attended the rally in San Jose. He first heard about the situation after seeing a photo of a young Chinese college student holding a piece of blank paper in protest, Zhu said, and found the student’s actions both shocking and inspiring.
“The protesters in China exhibited incredible bravery, and attending a rally here is the least I could do to show my support,” Zhu told San José Spotlight. “I never thought it was possible for people in China to protest in public, let alone a young girl.”
Local rallies offer mostly moral support instead of firm political action, Zhu said. But ongoing protests in China seem to be pushing the government to lessen COVID restrictions, he added.
One of the rally’s organizers, who requested anonymity citing fear of retaliation and tracking from the Chinese government, said watching all the messages, photos and videos on social media pushed her to take action. It’s been common to hear about tragedies resulting from the country’s COVID-19 policies, she said, including the Guizhou bus crash in September, where 27 people died in an accident on the way to a quarantine facility.
“I felt very encouraged, and connected to my people all of a sudden,” she told San José Spotlight. “It’s not common for Chinese people to stand out like this, asking (for) justice for the victims and holding the government accountable.”
The rally in San Jose raised awareness, even if it’s for a country thousands of miles away, the organizer said. Residents are demanding more political representation for Asian Americans across the county. The rally was the result of combined efforts of many volunteers and residents, she added.
“We all need to connect in such a hard period of time, and show support to the people,” she told San José Spotlight. “We’re not alone anymore.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.