The news came last night (Beijing Time) that @Stariver , a regular Twitter user based in Miyun, Beijing (北京密云) was detained on November 7th, possibly for tweeting this tweet midnight, November 5th:
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Two Beijing women who visited his home in Miyun reported last night that @Stariver was taken away by police in the morning of the 7th, giving the reason that a tweet of his was “involved in spreading false and terrible information”, and he is currently held in the detention center of Miyun County. His family has not been able to see him since the 7th.
Over the last few days, people close to @Stariver (who may not know him personally) have been asking about his whereabouts and calling for his return. There were suspicions that something had happened to him, but then someone said he was visiting his ailing grandfather in countryside.
I myself even tweeted once about him too: “What’s going on? Has the crackdown expanded to the realm of sorcerers and demons?” (Some on Twitter call him the “old sorcerer”.)
In Twitter’s Chinese community, @Stariver is known for his cool and biting comments about current events in China that cut the froth and burst false “hopes”. He is also known for the depth of his knowledge in classics.
Being detained, sentenced to re-education-through-labor, or even given a prison term for a tweet is not new. In 2010, activist Wang Yi (王译) was given one year in re-education-through-labor for a 5-character tweet that said “Go, angry youth!” to mock nationalistic youth. Just recently, a young man named Ren Jianyu (任建宇) challenged the Chongqing government for sentencing him to re-education-through-labor based on his Weibo posts and reposts that were deemed “negative.”
An online petition has been promptly set up to call for @Stariver ’s release, and as you can imagine, Twitter’s Chinese community is again roiled by this ironic, darkish episode.
This would be the first case of a Chinese citizen being penalized for making a joke about the Party’s skittish Congress, a weird test of China’s new leaders who have just shown up, smiled nicely to the world, and scarcely walked off the stage.
P.S. Since last night, I have learned about the identity of @Stariver . His real name is Zhai Xiaobin (翟小兵), born in 1976, studied ancient Chinese literature in the Chinese Department of Peking University, was once a journalist but now works in financial sector. And he’s also an amateur martial art coach. One of the two women who went to Miyun to look for him tweeted that, “I’ve only met Star River once. He’s tall, polite with smile on his face… He has a happy family. A caring father, he does homework with his daughter every day.” Another Twitter user described him as a “gentleman” who, over a dinner party, offered food to ladies and poured tea for them.