The Enormous Power of Symbols

Symbols speak to the human need for flourishing

Mukundarajan V N


Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

“History shows that all protest movements rely on symbols — boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, flags, songs. Symbolic action on whatever scale — from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to wearing a simple wristband — is designed to disrupt our everyday complacency and force people to think.”(Hugh Evans, Australian humanitarian)

China has been rocked by rare public protests over the country’s draconian Covid-related lockdowns, which have heaped misery on ordinary people’s lives. Sometimes, people in a city have to spend months in their homes.

The protesters do not carry placards, they wave pieces of blank A4 white paper.

The blank paper is a symbol of people’s resistance against censorship. The Chinese censors will not allow any written criticism of the government.

“The white paper represent everything we want to say but cannot say.”(Chinese protester) defines a symbol as

“something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial.”

Symbols evoke the power of silence, of the unstated powerful words. Sometimes, silence is more eloquent than noise.

It’s astonishing that a piece of blank paper has galvanised people into protesting on the streets, risking their life and liberty.

The empty piece of paper is a powerful symbol of public dissent. It speaks aloud, the anger and anguish of the people.

A symbol is an idiom of communal solidarity. Symbolism challenges state brutality; it’s the ordinary citizen’s weapon against tyranny.

The blank paper is an unwritten manifesto of public anger. The people want to go about their daily lives without any restrictions on their movement.

The blank paper lends itself to many interpretations. For some, it’s a protest against Covid-lockdowns. For others, it’s a protest against political dictatorship.

Dictators fear unwritten words more than they dread published statements. The unstated word is deafeningly eloquent; it provokes the mind and demands immediate attention.

You can ignore a written piece of paper; nobody can turn a blind eye to a blank piece of paper, which carries the power of symbolism.

Symbols are living representations of people's social and cultural values and beliefs, a metaphor for human flourishing.

I bow before the courage of the brave Chinese protesters!

Thanks for reading my story.



Mukundarajan V N

Retired banker living in India. Avid reader. I write to learn, inform and inspire. Believe in ethical living and sustainable development.