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Chinese Activist Projected Anti-Xi, Anti-Communist Party Slogan in Public Space


"Overthrow the Communist Party. Overthrow Xi Jinping" is projected on the outer walls of a high-rise building in Jinan's Wanda Plaza, northeastern Shandong Province, China, on Feb. 21, 2023. (Video screenshot provided by Chai Song)
"Overthrow the Communist Party. Overthrow Xi Jinping" is projected on the outer walls of a high-rise building in Jinan's Wanda Plaza, northeastern Shandong Province, China, on Feb. 21, 2023. (Video screenshot provided by Chai Song)

On February 21, 2023, just before the Second Plenary Session of the 20th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, or CCP, and the Two Sessions in Beijing, a lone protestor projected a massive red slogan on the outer wall of the Wanda Plaza in Jinan, the capital of northeastern Shandong Province. The slogan said:

"Overthrow the Communist Party. Overthrow Xi Jinping."

For months, little was known about who was behind the rare protest and how someone managed to stage such an audacious act in authoritarian China. But last week, VOA’s Mandarin Service conducted an exclusive telephone interview with the lone protester — 29-year-old Chai Song, a former real estate rental broker who fled to the United States last year.

His protest was inspired by the actions of Peng Lifa, who hung two banners on a bridge along a busy road in Beijing on October 13, 2022. Unlike Chai, Peng was immediately arrested and is in police custody at an undisclosed location.

Chai Song takes a selfie in Thailand during his escape from China in late January 2023. (Photo provided by Chai Song)
Chai Song takes a selfie in Thailand during his escape from China in late January 2023. (Photo provided by Chai Song)

Following his own act of protest, Chai said, authorities immediately dispatched many police to arrest his girlfriend and two friends and cut off their contact with the outside world to reduce the social impact of the incident. Until recently, he said, he has kept quiet for the safety of his friends, but now he believes that widespread public attention is a better way to protect them.

VOA: When did you come up with the idea to carry out the protest?

Chai Song: What influenced me was Peng Zaizhou [Peng Lifa's online name], the White Paper Revolution and the fire in Xinjiang. After that, the disorderly reopening after the pandemic made me determined to do this. … After seeing so many people die, I decided that this was no place for people. It's trampling on life. So, I decided I had to do this.

VOA: Why did you decide to use a projector?

Chai: I had to consider my safety because Peng gave me some inspiration. He was brave when he did it. He was waiting on the bridge to be arrested. The impact of his arrest was even greater. I'm not as brave as he is. I just wanted to operate it remotely to ensure my personal safety. I hoped to continue to speak out more, not like that [scenario wherein] once a person makes a sound, [they] disappear.

VOA: How did you set this all up?

Chai: This preparation process was very cumbersome. To decide where to place [the projector], I checked out some places and finally chose the Wanda Plaza in Jinan. It had a huge passenger flow, so the effect was very good. After I decided on a place, I started preparing to rent a place.

I rented a place on the 13th floor. The projector display surface was very good and very high. I decided to rent it. Then I went to buy some equipment, including that projector. After that, how do I get the characters I need? At that time, there were firms making advertising signs in China that could make the characters, but no one would make the kind of characters I needed for the slogan. And once I [ask] someone to [make the necessary characters], I might be exposed very quickly. So, I bought a laser engraving machine myself, and then I carved the characters myself. I did not use those characters to test but replaced them with a few other words: "Quzhou Spicy Duck Heads, Always Fresh." I tested it without arousing any suspicion.

After testing the equipment, I replaced the lens with what I carved ["Overthrow the Communist Party. Overthrow Xi Jinping"] and then turned on the power. I bought a smart meter to control its power and turned the computer off so my phone could control it. Then, I turned it on remotely. I also installed a surveillance camera in that room to monitor whether my operation was exposed and whether I was discovered.

VOA: After setting up the projector, you left China before turning it on, right? What were your expectations?

Chai: I was very hesitant and struggling at the time. I was also very scared. I knew that once the operation started, people who were in contact with me or my parents would be affected. But I didn't expect it to be on such a big scale. I told my friend beforehand to help me shoot a video. I wanted to see what I did, but I was not in China. After I turned it on, he took a video for me. My friends and my girlfriend saw this video, and they were shocked. They also posted it on WeChat to spread the word. [Chai says he turned the projector on remotely from a hotel room in Panama.]

VOA: When the incident happened, was there any reaction at the Wanda Plaza? Were the police dispatched?

Chai: When my friend took the video for me — you may also be able to see in the video that the police car was already there — it happened very fast. But no matter how fast it was, I probably displayed the slogan for about 10 minutes. That night, around 8 or 9 o'clock, I contacted my friends, but none of them were reachable. They were probably arrested that night. Later, I learned from my friend's girlfriend that about 50 police went to his place that night to take him away.

VOA: What did they do to your family and friends?

Chai: The authorities interrogated everyone, especially my parents. They were basically interrogated for a week. Then my girlfriend, the friend who helped me shoot the video, and another friend — all three of them couldn't be reached at the same time and were arrested. The authorities sent people from the Provincial [Public Security] Department to Hebei Province, and the Hebei Provincial Department sent people down to my hometown to investigate my background, such as my teachers from elementary school and junior high school and the places I used to work for.

VOA: Why did you post that specific slogan, “Overthrow the Communist Party. Overthrow Xi Jinping”?

Chai: I think this is what I really wanted to come true. Of course, this realization may be very difficult, even a bit out of reach, and it is not something one person can accomplish. But it is really what I wanted to say most in my heart, so I chose to use this, and it is exactly what I wanted to do in my heart.

VOA’s Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.