“This is a sign of moral courage, for those who took action despite of fragmentation, persecution and threat.
This is a symbol of the common experiences under Covid Control: loss, trauma, being torn, solidarity and resilience against brutality and far more.”
In the days marking the 1st anniversary of the vehement protests in the People’s Republic of China against the state’s coronavirus policy, Bian Cheng takes the billboard to invite for a critical remembering of the events. Central to this display are the so-called White Paper Protests and the story of the whistle-blower Li Wenliang which, in their juxtaposition, address the political engagement by society and by individuals.
In November 2022, thousands of people took to the streets in cities such as Ürümçi, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Dali and in a number of universities, to protest against the strict control measures. Many held empty white DINA4 paper in their hands, the aim of which – with the accessible ‘banners’ ostensibly bearing no statements – was to circumvent censorship and avert persecution. On the billboard, the word mingbai 明白 (Engl.: “I/you/we understand”) is recalled. The characters refer to the story of Doctor Li Wenliang, who was remembered as a whistle-blower because, at the end of 2019, he had already seen the dangers of Covid-19 and warned his medical colleagues accordingly. Li was reprimanded by his institution, summoned to the local police station where he was demanded to sign a police caution that charged him with publishing false information on the Internet and disturbing public order, and warned him that, should he continue, he would be prosecuted. Li signed with the characters mingbai 明白 and neng能 (Engl.: [Yes, I] understand. [Yes, I] can). This “understand” became a wide-spread symbol for individual responsibilities despite of suppression, misinformation and disinformation. Li died on 7 February 2020 of Covid-19.
On 5 May 2023, the WHO Director-General stated: “It is therefore with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.”
Bian Cheng lives and works in Munich and Berlin.