Splatoon 3: China’s white paper protest expands into popular games around the world

Image Credit : @wimi_ttc on Twitter / Nintendo

A number of messages written in Chinese have been sighted on Splatoon 3’s Japan and North America servers and are connected to the ongoing white paper protests in China.

The white paper protest is a protest movement in China against the country’s zero-COVID policy, which has spread beyond their borders and around the world.

The protests were kicked off by a fire that broke out in the city of Urumqi in the country’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  According to local citizens, there was plenty of time to escape the high-rise where the fire occurred, but because of zero-COVID regulations, doors and emergency exits were sealed shut, which slowed down evacuation. Additionally, it was pointed out that firefighters arrived on the scene but couldn’t approach the building due to the lockdown measures, which slowed down firefighting efforts.

After this, protests broke out in honor of the victims. Participants started by insisting zero-COVID measures be removed before demanding democracy and freedom of speech, an end to the Communist Party, and for Xi Jinping to step down. These protests have since gone on and expanded from not just the real world, but into popular video games like Splatoon 3. Please note that the Nintendo Account User Agreement and Nintendo Network Agreement in Japan forbid political speech.

Examples of messages posted in the games include, “Send food, not PCR tests,” “Retire Xi Jinping,” “End the Communist Party,” “The next to die could be you,” and “It’s better to die than not have freedom.” A Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II player with a display name that translates to “Stop PCR tests, give us freedom” has also been spotted. By posting these messages to popular games, the protesters are probably hoping to get their message out to more people.

The sense of impending crisis in the message

* In China, if a single person tests positive for COVID-19, that area is locked down and those under lockdown aren’t allowed to step foot from their homes. Even if someone has an illness besides COVID-19, they are not allowed to go to a hospital (BBC News). Not only are roads closed, but even the doors of homes are closed with special locks.
Image Credit: 新浪河北

Numerous tragedies caused by zero-COVID policies have been reported in China. In January of this year, a pregnant woman was refused treatment at a hospital for not having a valid negative COVID-19 test and suffered a stillbirth (NHK). Many similar incidents have occurred, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see more tragedies happening down the line. This has led to protesters adopting the slogan “You could be next.”

Of course, protests have broken out in major cities and on college campuses across mainland China, but they’ve also extended to major cities in other countries. Protests of this scale are a rare sight in China where the government keeps tight restrictions on such activity. Protesting in China is extremely dangerous, and police can arrest and punish demonstrators for the most trivial of things. Additionally, much of China’s population is patriotic. While this has led to citizens mostly following the government’s policies, a hint of change is in the air.

Whatever you write will get deleted

*Player messages in Splatoon 3 warning that no one is safe from the iron fist of the Communist Party.

Incidents related to China’s zero-COVID policy tend to make a stir online, and posts made by Chinese citizens mourning the victims of these incidents are all deleted. There are also cases where accounts mourning such victims have been banned.

China has a history of strong censorship. Not only against direct criticism of the government, but also against content the government finds bothersome or inconvenient. Messages mourning the victims of the fire in Xinjiang and criticizing the government’s actions are also being deleted from Chinese social media one after another.

In China, all social media accounts are linked to a person’s real identity, so it’s easy for the government to figure out who is posting what and deal with those who post problematic content. Opinions outside of approval aren’t tolerated.

* After the fire in Urumqi, an article containing rows of the single character “好” began circulating online in China. In Chinese, this character is like saying “understood” or “affirmative” and has a connotation of agreement. It was a cynical and sarcastic article which also ended up being deleted (China Digital Times). To represent this strong censorship and lack of free speech in China, white papers are being used in protests around the globe.

Arrested for holding a blank white piece of paper

The first demonstrator holding a blank piece of paper (at least for the current protests against COVID-19 lockdowns) was a student at the Communication University of China, Nanjing. The student simply stood still while holding a white piece of paper. Even after the paper was confiscated, they continued to stand there as if they were still holding it. Onlookers and other students gradually joined in what turned into a large protest on the campus.

In this Reddit thread, we can see images of the protest as it started with a single person and gradually grew.

The person who started the protest was arrested by police and their whereabouts are unknown.

The protest acted as a spark for more demonstrations not just in Nanjing, but across all of China.

While China of course has a history of protesting (like the Tiananmen Square protest 33 years ago), for many, this is likely the first time they’ve taken part in a demonstration. This has led to many Chinese citizens being arrested. According to statements from students who were arrested and since released, they were subjected to violence from the police, full body searches, and had biometric data taken such as fingerprints, eye scans, and voice data.

However, it does look like the protests have at least had some impact, as the Chinese government has started saying they are going to relax zero-COVID policies. With that, it looks like the protests notched at least one win. However, it’s unlikely that anyone expects these protests to spark a revolution in China, despite the fact that the protests are sometimes referred to as the “white paper revolution.” Nevertheless, there are still many people who think they should continue their protesting efforts. Even if it doesn’t lead to any concessions, it’s still an important seed to sow in the hearts and minds of the people.

If you’ve come across similar messages in games like Splatoon 3, hopefully this has provided some context for what’s going on.

Translated by. Nick Mosier based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2022-12-05 20:28 JST)