Last post, I made the case for Twitter as perfect weapon for Chinese dissidents, and did my best to explain how written Chinese is adapting to its fettered online habitat. Why did I do this? Why should Americans and others take interest in “online social media with Chinese characteristics”? This post attempts to answer the question.
Ai WeiWei [left], the prominent artist whose detention this April has received international attention (without resulting in his release….) has a Twitter account [@aiww] that follows 7,644 users and is followed by 87,246 more. Ai WeiWei has over 60,000 tweets to his credit, on a wide variety of topics: daily life, art projects,
conversations and info-swapping with other dissidents, criticisms of the government.
Most notable, though, is the date of his most recent tweet—April 3, shortly before his detainment. His account remains intact, but has been in stasis for over two months.
Some may feel this is a metaphor for Web dissent in China: It hasn’t been “deleted,” so to say, but it’s mostly inactive or at least ineffective due to ubiquitous censorship.
However, I’ll now demonstrate that “real news” is in fact getting out of China, due solely to the efforts of Web-users living within the country’s borders. Here are two still-developing stories, and how I found out about them…
First, a freshly-launched website that allows people report cases of government corruption (which is endemic in much of China, especially rural areas). It seems to be independently launched (not a CCP “compromise,” and has survived censorship at least from June 8 ’til now.
The site, called tashouhuile.com (the characters, 他受贿了，translate to “He took the bribe!”), has received over 2.9 million hits in under a week.
As far as I can tell, the story broke on Twitter thanks to the aptly-named Chinese news translation group Yizhe (译者, “The Translators”).
This spurred a conversation between some well-regarded, English-using Twitter accounts, namely @ChinaGeeks and @melissakchan (Al Jazeera’s China correspondent). This allows many China-followers who aren’t “on the inside” [like myself] to basically watch real-time as the story develops.
This story has become viral in certain circles, which is surprising to different people for different reasons. China observers seem to be shocked to see unauthorized site for reporting official graft/bribery could remain unscathed. The site’s creators seem shocked that tashouhuile.com is garnering so much attention, so soon…
A rough translation [really rough–any bilingual readers, please proofread this] of their Web site’s latest blog post:
“We haven’t been online long, [but] we’ve received tons of media attention, as well as interview requests coming one after another.
“But right now, what we treasure most are the substantial contributions to our Web platform, for the sake of opposing corruption of all kinds. This isn’t just us showing off in the spotlight: We need [this] media attention, we need the attention of our Web friends everywhere, because only in this way can our platform cast a wide-ranging influence. From here, we’ll condense our efforts into a raindrop that moistens a piece of earth†.
Therefore, I hope our friends in the media can help us even more, by spreading word about our platform’s public service, without putting attention on our team or any one person. If we have problems existing as a voice or as a service in the public realm, please be patient and as we make adjustments. “他受贿了” is not our website; it’s a platform for all of China.”
The second example of a China-based story breaking and spreading on Twitter, is already entering the mainstream U.S. news sphere. However, the story broke via microbloggers, images and pieces of info slammed together until the truth appeared.
That truth: continued riots in Guangzhou, a province of China near Mongolia but until now unburdened by the ethnic tensions of other borderline regions like Xinjiang and Tibet.
Though it’s hard to sort out the exact details still, it seems that unrest began when a street vendor was harassed and beaten by local police. This incensed the public, and demonstrations by the Mongolian minority [the province was originally Inner Mongolia, and the streetcar vendor was Mongolian…].
Things escalated yesterday, and after some scrambling around to find out why, the
Twitter consensus seemed to be that a 20-year-old pregnant women was assaulted and killed by police.
DISCLAIMER: There’s no way I can verify the above consensus. To note, local officials stated in an official announcement yesterday that no on had been killed in the “matter.” The official did admit to incidents occurring, though, calling them “a surprise attack on government forces … which is now under control.”)
Many of the original posts [including the link to the story that supposedly confirms the killed pregnant woman scenario] seem to have been deleted already, but many photos still exist on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, and videos still abound.
Citizen journalist sources say things have calmed down in the past several hours. But the images and microblog updates from people in Guangzhou prove the riots had at least one point a severity that’s rarely seen of dissent in China. We’re talking 10,000+ protesters. Overturned cars in flames in the streets. That just doesn’t happen in the Middle Kingdom. And both official Chinese and U.S. sources fail to paint a complete picture of the “matter.”
So I’ll continue to follow this, and stories like it, through social media and citizen journalists instead. Obvious comparisons to news about the Arab Spring, but I won’t go there for now. I simply encourage the reader to take interest in “online social media with Chinese characteristics”.
—† Written Chinese can wax poetic out of nowhere, as we see here. The metaphor, to me, is that the “soil” of free expression of human rights has dried up in China, and 他受贿了！hopes to be one of many “raindrops” that will make that “soil” fertile and life-growing once again…