One year after Peng Lifa’s demonstration against Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party on Beijing’s Sitong Bridge, online users are still wondering: where is Peng Lifa? On October 13, 2022, Peng hung two banners from the bridge with the messages: “We demand food, not COVID tests; reform, not Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not slaves”; and, “Boycott classes. Boycott work. Depose the traitorous despot Xi Jinping.” Peng was detained shortly after and has not been heard from since. His protest sparked a global movement of protest art. Despite heavy censorship within China, images of his protest spread throughout the country through various methods. Some shared pictures through Apple Airdrop on the Guangzhou subway while others wrote his slogans on public restroom walls. In late November, the true impact of Peng’s protest was evident as tens of thousands rallied in the White Paper Protests across China, some chanting his slogans. Ye Bing of Voice of America reported on Peng Lifa’s whereabouts and the government’s surveillance and detention of his family and associates.
On the day of his swift arrest, Peng Lifa, also known by his online alias Peng Zaizhou, is currently being held in custody at an undisclosed location. Sources with knowledge of the situation, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of government scrutiny, state that his immediate family members are still under surveillance.
According to sources from VOA Mandarin, the authorities have not provided any legal documents pertaining to his case to his family. Additionally, his loved ones have been unable to secure a lawyer to offer legal aid.
Peng Lifa’s spouse, Han Yang, and their two minor daughters are currently residing in Beijing. The government has provided transportation for their daily travels to their jobs and educational institutions. According to sources speaking to VOA Mandarin, the family’s routine has been drastically altered as they are constantly accompanied by government officials.
Due to the government’s action of taking away Peng Lifa’s wife and daughters’ mobile phones for “protection,” they are now required to use phones provided by the authorities.
Peng Lifa’s father-in-law, Han Yueci, previously owned a small business but has now been relocated to a small factory by the Public Security Bureau and is being monitored. Peng Lifa’s mother-in-law, who used to reside in Beijing, currently resides with her oldest daughter in Jilin Province, located in northeastern China near the borders of North Korea and Russia. She is also likely being monitored. [Source]
After the protest, a wide range of terms were censored, some of which were only loosely related to the event. Weibo search results for words such as “brave,” “the brave one,” “bridge,” “salute,” “Haidian,” and “hero” were limited to government-affiliated accounts, known as “Blue Vs,” indicating heavy censorship. One user on Weibo was suspended for simply stating, “I saw it.” The hashtag #Beijing was also banned on Weibo’s Chinese sister app, Douyin (also known as TikTok), with search results limited to government-affiliated accounts. Across various platforms including Weibo, Zhihu, Douban, and Baidu, searches for “Sitong Bridge” yielded very few results. In some cases, sharing an image of the protest in a WeChat group resulted in a 24-hour ban from the platform’s group chat and Moments features. Additionally, comments under the song “The Brave One” by No Party For Cao Dong were deleted from QQ Music, while Apple Music removed the song “Sitong Bridge” from its Chinese streaming service and Baidu removed a page on the song from its digital encyclopedia.
The government has continued to take action to suppress Peng’s protest. In late 2022, a Chinese painter was arrested for creating and sharing a portrait of Peng on Twitter. In 2023, officials removed the physical sign for Sitong Bridge and also removed it from all digital maps. Additionally, a human rights lawyer who tried to visit Peng’s hometown was stopped by undercover police and held in custody for 24 hours.
Despite this, Peng’s demonstration has not been erased from memory. The following are chosen remarks from Twitter and Pincong, a Chinese website that is banned in China but remains popular among mainland users seeking to engage in political discussions.
EthanZ666888: Peng Lifa, valiant fighter, where can you be found?
Peng Lifa’s actions should be immortalized! He played a significant role in bringing an end to the pandemic restrictions. As we enjoy the freedom to venture outside our homes, let us not forget the individual who made it all possible!
If Liu Xiaobo was the leader of the 1989 generation’s struggle for liberty against oppression, then Peng Zaizhou and program-think are undoubtedly the current guiding lights. While Liu Xiaobo has passed away, our greatest hope is for the safety of Peng and program-think. History will undoubtedly give them a fair evaluation, but as their peers, it is crucial that we continue to express our care for them, follow their actions, and even try our best to assist them (to the extent possible).
Mr. Peng has history on his side. With his continued presence, the Party will inevitably decline and democracy will prevail. [Chinese]
The Twitter account @whyyoutouzhele posted images from Weibo of Chinese tributes to Peng Lifa.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, an educator specializing in history at the University of California, Irvine, posted a picture of replicas of Sitong Bridge banners on display in Irvine.
Some individuals shared their memories on Twitter.