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Demonstrators cover their faces with sheets of blank paper while protesting China's zero-COVID policy in Hong Kong on November 28, 2022.

Enlarge / Demonstrators cover their faces with sheets of blank paper while protesting China’s zero-COVID policy in Hong Kong on November 28, 2022. (credit: Anthony Kwan / Getty Images)

A week ago, demonstrators took to the streets of the northwestern city of Urumqi to protest China’s strict zero-COVID policy. That night, a much bigger wave of protest crested on Chinese social media, most notably on the super app WeChat. Users shared videos of the demonstrators and songs like “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables, Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” and Patti Smith’s “Power to the People.”

In the days that followed, protests spread. A mostly masked crowd in Beijing’s Liangmaqiao district held up blank sheets of paper and called for an end to tough COVID policies. Across the city at the elite Tsinghua University, protesters held up printouts of a physics formula known as the Friedmann equation because its namesake sounds like “free man.” Similar scenes played out in cities and college campuses across China in a wave of protest that has been compared to the 1989 student movement that ended in a bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

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