The rare protests that spread across China over the weekend often featured demonstrators holding pieces of blank white paper, a phenomenon that has caused problems for the country’s top stationery chain.
In a symbolic protest against censorship, young demonstrators held up sheets of white paper — a metaphor for the critical social media posts, news articles, and outspoken online accounts that have been wiped from the internet as thousands of people took to the streets.
The unprecedented uprising, which has been largely ignored by the Chinese state media, saw demonstrators calling for an end to strict Covid lockdown measures and political freedoms.
On Monday, the shares in M&G Stationery, a household name with more than 80,000 retail outlets across China, tumbled as much as 3.1% after a document widely circulated on Chinese social media said the company would ban the nationwide sale of A4 white paper sheets both online and offline, starting Tuesday.
A4 refers to a standard paper size commonly used in countries outside of the US and Canada.
The fall in M&G Stationery’s stock was much steeper than the 0.7% decline seen in Chinese markets on Monday. M&G Stationery is based in Shanghai and sells its products in over 50 countries and regions around the world, according to the company’s website. It’s currently listed on Shanghai Stock Exchange, and has a market cap of $6 billion.
The document shared on social media said the ban was to “maintain national security and stability” and “prevent outlaws from hoarding a large amount of A4 white paper and using it for illegal subversive activities.” It also said the company “strongly condemns the recent ‘white paper movement’” in various cities in China.
Shortly after its stock fell, M&G Stationery said the document circulating online was fabricated and that the company had notified the police, according to a filing published on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.
“The company’s current production and operation are all normal,” the stationery supplier said.
After M&G issued its filing, some social media users said they weren’t able to order A4 white paper sheets from the company’s online stores.
“If the rumor is false, then why doesn’t its Taobao store support the delivery of A4 paper to many parts of China?” said a Weibo user with the IP location in Liaoning province. Taobao is one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms, owned by Alibaba Group
Another user with the IP address in Shandong province said the delivery could fail if one’s address is in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Following the stock exchange filing, shares in M&G Stationery clawed back some losses, but was still down 1% by Monday’s close. On Tuesday, the stock rebounded 2% in early afternoon trade, in line with broad market gains.
The protests were triggered by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang. The blaze killed at least 10 people and injured nine in an apartment building, leading to public fury after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.
The city had been under lockdown for more than 100 days, with residents unable to leave the region and many forced to stay home.
Videos showed Urumqi residents marching to a government building and chanting for the end of lockdown on Friday. The following morning, the local government said it would lift the lockdown in stages, but did not provide a clear time frame or address the protests.
That failed to quell public anger and the protests rapidly spread beyond Xinjiang, with residents in cities and universities across China also taking to the streets.
In recent days, vigils and demonstrations expressing solidarity with protesters in China have been held around the world, including in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
Global markets fell on Monday as investors were concerned about the protests in China denting growth in the world’s second-largest economy and exacerbating global supply chain disruptions. US, European and Asian markets closed broadly lower.
But Hong Kong and mainland Chinese markets rebounded Tuesday, with gains accelerating after the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced that the health authorities would hold a press conference in the afternoon about Covid measures.