Home / News / World /  Why Chinese students are using Friedmann equation as their tool to protest?

Often one item is symbolic of an entire protest movement. In China, it is holding up a blank piece of paper as people take to the streets to protest the government's ongoing zero-COVID measures.

Over the last two days, people across the country started protesting against China's harsh Covid policy. Largely peaceful in nature, the protest had one thing in common: People raising sheets of white paper above their heads. An Insider report cited cities like Shanghai and Beijing had rallies of a scale not seen since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Amid the protest, it is interesting to see how protestors are using the same white paper in different ways including the use of Friedmann equation. 

How are protestors are using the white paper in different ways?

On Sunday evening in Shanghai, some protesters came clutching sheets of paper at a vigil to remember the victims of a fire that catalysed the demonstrations.

A large rally was seen at Chinese President Xi Jinping's alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing, where students were seen holding papers and shouting slogans like: "Government for the people, freedom for all.

Another striking image was a young woman walking through the streets of Wuzhen in Zhejiang with chains around her wrists and duct tape over her mouth, carrying a blank paper.

How Friedmann equation is linked to the protest?

Another unique feature that stood out is students of Beijing’s Tsinghua University holding sheets on which is written one of the Friedmann equations.

On explaining how Friedmann equation is linked to the protest, social media users suggested that it is a play on the words “free man". Another view is that it symbolises a free and “open" China, because the Friedmann equations describe an “open" (expanding) universe.

Named after the Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann, these equations are a describe the rate at which the universe expands. In fact, Friedmann was the first physicist to predict that the universe is expanding.

"The white paper represents everything we want to say but cannot say," a 26-year-old man named Johnny told Reuters during the Liangma River protests.

How did the white paper protest start in China?

The trend roots back to the 2020 Hong Kong demonstrations, where locals held blank pieces of paper to protest against the city's security laws.

As authorities banned slogans and phrases associated with the mass protest movement of 2019, Activists started their demonstrations holding white papers.

In China too, the gesture symbolises the act of silencing dissent and also challenge to authorities.

"There was definitely nothing on the paper, but we know what's on there," a woman who joined protests in Shanghai told the BBC.

Meanwhile, China's censorship machine is acting hard on censoring the protest. Kerry Allen, the BBC's China media analyst, said,"Tens of millions of posts have been filtered from search results. Blank sheet of paper' and 'white paper' now also only show sparing results."

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