As the fifth round of US-China economic talks got underway in Washington, DC last week, one intrepid protester decided to leave his or her mark on the Chinese embassy. Under cover of darkness, the person spray-painted the Chinese character for “chai”, which means “dismantle”, on the embassy’s outer wall – right underneath security cameras.
Though it was quickly wiped away, photos of the graffiti have gone viral on Chinese social media networks, with some commenter calling the person who painted it “a national hero”. The character “chai” is fraught with meaning: in China, it is often painted on homes from which occupants have been forcibly evicted by the authorities, and which are slated for demolition to make way for massive development projects. Since the start of China’s economic boom, between 50 and 60 million Chinese citizens have lost their property in such seizures. Sometimes, residents receive some compensation, but not always.
No organisation has claimed responsibility for the graffiti. However, Yang Jianli, the founder of Initiatives for China, told Voice of America that “it was widely believed that the graffiti on the Chinese embassy was in support of the Sparrow Initiative,” which is his organisation’s campaign against forced evictions.