The rare protests that swept through China over the weekend frequently featured demonstrators holding blank white paper, a phenomenon that has caused problems for the country’s largest stationery chain.
Young demonstrators held up sheets of white paper in a symbolic protest against censorship, a metaphor for the critical social media posts, news articles, and outspoken online accounts that have been removed from the internet as thousands of people took to the streets.
Demonstrators demanded an end to strict Covid lockdown measures and political freedoms during the unprecedented uprising, which was largely ignored by the Chinese state media.
M&G Stationery, a household name with over 80,000 retail outlets across China, saw its shares fall as much as 3.1% on Monday after a document widely circulated on Chinese social media stated that the company would ban the nationwide sale of A4 white paper sheets, both online and offline, beginning Tuesday.
A4 is a standard paper size used in countries other than the United States and Canada.
M&G Stationery’s stock dropped much more than the 0.7% drop seen in Chinese markets on Monday.
According to the company’s website, M&G Stationery is based in Shanghai and sells its products in over 50 countries and regions worldwide.
It is currently listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of $6 billion.
The ban was imposed to “maintain national security and stability” and to “prevent outlaws from hoarding a large amount of A4 white paper and using it for illegal subversive activities,” according to the document shared on social media. It also stated that the company “strongly condemns the recent ‘white paper movement'” in several Chinese cities.
Production ‘all normal’
According to a filing published on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website, M&G Stationery said the document circulating online was fabricated and that the company had notified the police.
“The current production and operation of the company are all normal,” the stationery supplier said.
Following M&G’s filing, some social media users reported being unable to order A4 white paper sheets from the company’s online stores.
“If the rumor is true, why doesn’t its Taobao store support A4 paper delivery to many parts of China?” asked a Weibo user with an IP address in Liaoning province. Taobao, owned by Alibaba Group, is one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms (BABA).
Another user with an IP address in Shandong province stated that if one’s address is in major cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, the delivery may fail.
A request for comment was not immediately returned by the company.
M&G Stationery shares recovered some of their losses following the stock exchange filing but were still down 1% by Monday’s close. In early afternoon trade on Tuesday, the stock rose 2%, in line with broad market gains.
‘White paper’ protests
The protests were sparked by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang’s far western region. The fire in an apartment building killed at least ten people and injured nine others, inciting public outrage after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures preventing firefighters from reaching the victims.
The city had been under lockdown for more than a hundred days, with residents unable to leave and many forced to remain at home.
On Friday, videos showed Urumqi residents marching to a government building and chanting for the end of the lockdown.
The following morning, the local government announced that the lockdown would be lifted gradually, but did not specify a time frame or address the protests.
This did not quell public outrage, and the protests quickly spread beyond Xinjiang, with residents taking to the streets in cities and universities across China.
Vigils and demonstrations in support of Chinese protesters have been held around the world in recent days, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
Global markets fell on Monday as investors worried about the impact of protests in China on the world’s second-largest economy’s growth and exacerbating global supply chain disruptions. The US, European, and Asian markets all finished lower.
However, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese markets recovered on Tuesday, with gains accelerating after the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced that the health authorities would hold a press conference about Covid measures in the afternoon.
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