4 December 2023
Fact checkMisleading

Misleading: These images of street sign and police are not related to China’s COVID-19 protests

Wulumuqi Zhong Road (乌鲁木齐中路) in Shanghai was not renamed to Wu Zhong Road (乌中路). The image of a police officer holding a “white paper” comes from a two-year-old public services announcement video.

Protests erupted across China in late November after a deadly fire in Urumqi in western Xinjiang left at least 10 people dead.

According to news reports, many people believed that the victims died because strict COVID-19 measures constrained firefighters from rescuing residents who were trapped in a burning building on Nov. 24.

Urumqi and other cities in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region had been under lockdown for over three months then.

During the nationwide civil unrest movement, some protesters, like the ones at Tsinghua university, held up a white paper as a symbol of mourning and also as a sign of defiance against censorship.

Annie Lab has investigated various photos and videos supposedly showing the scenes of protests since then (for example, here and here).

In this article, we have looked into the following two related claims:

  1. Wulumuqi Zhong Road in Shanghai was renamed Wu Zhong Road – False
  2. Image shows a Chinese police officer joining the “white paper” protest – Misleading

False: Wulumuqi Zhong Road (乌鲁木齐中路) in Shanghai was not renamed to Wu Zhong Road (乌中路)

A couple of tweets (here and here) claimed that the main venue of the protests in Shanghai, Wulumuqi Zhong Road (乌鲁木齐中路), was given a new name (the street is named after Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which is spelt Wulumuqi in Pinyin).

The posts included an image showing a road sign displaying the name “Wu Zhong Road (乌中路),” indicating that it is the new name. Together, the tweets have over 2,300 likes and 480  retweets at the time of writing.

However, this “new” road sign was made and put up erroneously almost ten years ago.

When the same image was circulating online in early 2013, the official Weibo account of the Shanghai Jingan District government made a statement on Jan. 22, 2013, and said the road had not been renamed and the correct sign would be installed there.

According to an article by the Oriental Daily News (东方日报) published on the following day with the same image, “an operational error” caused by “staff negligence” was the reason for the wrong street sign.

Jiefang Daily (解放日报), an official local newspaper of the Communist Party in Shanghai, also reported that it was a mistake on the same day.

The image was posted in 2013 

Annie Lab checked internet maps such as Baidu, Google and Shanghai Jiaotong Chuxing, and can confirm that as of Dec. 10, 2022, the street is still called Wulumuqi Zhong Road.

We also asked a resident in Shanghai to take photos of the current road sign on Dec. 15, and we can be certain that it is there.

The photo of the road sign taken by a Shanghai resident on Dec. 15, 2022.
Shanghai Jiaotong Chuxing’s map shows the street name Wulumuqi Zhong Road at 23:57 on Dec.10, 2022.

Misleading: This image does not show a Chinese police officer joining the “white paper” protest

A tweet shared an image of a man, who appears to be a Chinese police officer, holding a blank sheet of paper on Nov. 29, 2022, with a claim that he has joined the “white paper” protests in China.

The same image was also posted by another Twitter account, and together, they have over 3,000 likes and 600 retweets as of this writing.

A4-size blank papers recently became a symbol of nationwide civil unrest. Some say it was also an effort to bypass the censorship online. Similar gestures were made by people in Hong Kong to criticize the passage of the national security law in 2020.

However, this image does not show a police officer participating in the protest movement. It is actually part of a video posted on Feb. 9, 2021, almost two years ago.

The video was posted during the Chinese New Year in 2021 to remind people to be alert against crimes.

Xi’an Public Security Bureau Chanba Ecological Area Branch posted the footage on Douyin with a message that the public needs to be on guard against all kinds of crimes during the Chinese New Year.

In the video, the white paper was used as a writing board to show various reminders such as “keep an eye on your phone in the crowded area” and “lock the doors and windows to prevent burglary.”

In China, it is common for the police to make public service announcements about safety during the biggest travel season in the country.

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