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China Change, November 21, 2016
Zhang Haitao (张海涛) is a 45-year-old Han Chinese man living in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. He is originally from Henan Province, and relocated to Xinjiang after being laid off from state employment in the 1990s. Since 2009 he’s been an active participant in rights defense activities and subsequently became a “sensitive” person who was harassed by police.
Zhang was detained on June 27, 2015, in Urumqi, indicted on December 25, 2015, and tried in January 11, 2016.
Based on 69 WeChat posts, 205 Twitter posts, and interviews by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia during the period from 2010 to 2015, a court in Urumqi found Zhang guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The court also found him guilty of “secretly gathering and illegally providing intelligence to overseas entities,” and sentenced him to five years in prison. The court ruled to confiscate 120,000 yuan ($17,400) of his personal property.
The court decision, dated on January 15, 2016, repeatedly cited Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “overseas hostile organizations.”
Zhang Haitao filed an appeal in February, 2016, but it has been delayed several times.
On November 14, lawyer Chen Jinxue (陈进学) visited Zhang and reported that he has kept in manacles since the beginning of the year, despite repeated protests from his lawyers. In the prison cell, Zhang is forced to sit in one small spot all day, and is not allowed to move around and subjected to prison bullying.
On November 15, his lawyers received a notice from the appeals court in Urumqi that the appeal will be conducted only in writing. The lawyers are asked to present their defense in writing. No ruling date is given, but it could be any day now.
Zhang Haitao’s wife called on the World Organization Against Torture to pay attention to the case, and speak out for her husband.
China Change strongly urges the U. S. government to intervene in this case: the USG must defend Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, two entities under the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, and demand that the guilty verdict based on interviews with VOA and RFA be rescinded. The USG must also defend independent media outlets and websites in the United States that are cited by the verdict. It must defend Zhang Haitao’s right to freedom of expression, and call on China to stop the barbaric act of punishing citizens for peacefully expressing dissent.
Zhang Haitao Court Decision, a Full Translation by China Change
Zhang Haitao’s Appeal, a Translation by China Change
Statement by Seven Former Chinese Political Prisoners Regarding the Death of Harry Wu and the Abuses of the Yahoo Human Rights Fund
Published: 9:25 pm, April 28, 2016
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent those of China Change. – The Editors
According to reports, Mr. Harry Wu (known as 吴弘达, or Wu Hongda, among Chinese) died suddenly on April 26, 2016, in Honduras while vacationing with friends. We wish to express our sincere condolences to his family. While the media has been inundated with obituaries and statements that celebrate Mr. Wu’s life as a human rights champion, we feel we too must say a few words in order to shed light on an investigation we have been conducting, and our preliminary findings.
We will start with the Yahoo Human Rights Fund. Yahoo was the first Western company to provide an email service in China. From 2000 to 2004, many Chinese dissidents chose to use Yahoo email out of information security reasons, because they believed that an American company, not controlled by the Chinese government, would have high ethical standards and not provide personal information and emails to the Chinese government. But Yahoo did exactly that, providing dissidents’ information to Chinese police, leading to their arrests and prison sentences, where emails were used as criminal evidence. In April, 2007, with help of Mr. Wu, two Chinese prisoners of conscience, Wang Xiaoning (王小宁) and Shi Tao (师涛) and their families brought a lawsuit against Yahoo. In November 2007, Yahoo settled the case with the two families, providing 3.2 million to each family, and establishing the approximately $17 million Yahoo Human Rights Fund (YHRF hereafter) “to provide humanitarian and legal aid to dissidents who have been imprisoned for expressing their views online.” The YHRF was entrusted to Laogai Research Foundation (LRF hereafter), which Mr. Wu co-founded in 1992 with Jeffrey Fiedler, the current Commissioner of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The $17 million was transferred to the accounts of LRF in 2008. In 2009, Laogai Human Rights Organization (LHRO) was established, with Yahoo’s General Counsel on the board as the vice chairperson, to oversee the use of the YHRF. According to a LRF announcement in February 2008 (the original posting on Laogai website is unavailable), the YHRF was designed to “help victims of Chinese internet censorship and other political prisoners.”
The seven of us were all Yahoo email users from 2000 to 2003, and the court decisions of six of us quoted emails as “criminal” evidence. In total, we served 38 years and all of us suffered torture and degrading treatment (see biographies at the end).
Two among us were once on friendly terms with Mr. Wu, and four of us were beneficiaries of the YHRF. Precisely because all four of us experienced gross irregularities during the process, we have long felt the management of the fund has been problematic. The experiences of others, and the fact that so few people have benefited from the fund (fewer than 150 over eight years) confirms our belief.
Since last November, we have been conducting an investigation into the use of the YHRF; our work is based on the IRS tax filings of LRF and LHRO, documents in Chinese, and interviews with beneficiaries and others with inside knowledge. We have found:
- By the end of 2015, the balance of LRF and LHRO that can be used (excluding property assets) was about $3 million or less (we can only estimate because we have yet to see the 2015 filing of the two organizations). Furthermore, the Yahoo Human Rights Fund has ceased to exist.
- Out of the approximately $14-15 million of the YHRF that has been spent from 2008 to 2015, only about $700,000 was used to provide humanitarian aid to Chinese dissidents, or less than 5% of the fund spent. Most of the $700,000 was distributed between 2008 to 2010, and from 2013 to 2015, the portion used for humanitarian relief was less than 2%.
- There are widespread irregularities in the distribution of the mere $700,000. So much so that, short of opening the books of LRF, we are not sure that the LRF indeed distributed this amount to political prisoners and their families. The irregularities include but are not limited to:
- In some cases, applicants were asked to fill out blank applications;
- In other cases, applicants were not asked to fill in application forms, nor provide receipts upon obtaining the funds;
- Amounts smaller than those approved were remitted;
- The application process was intentionally made difficult. To begin with, the Laogai.org website, or its Chinese site called Gauncha (观察), does not even provide the announcement of the humanitarian assistance program and the application form in Chinese;
- Many who clearly met the criteria for assistance were rejected, and many more never heard back from LRF after submitting applications;
- There are more examples that we will not list for the time being.
- In January, 2011, Yu Ling, the wife of Wang Xiaoning, brought a lawsuit against Harry Wu, LRF, LHRO, and Yahoo Human Rights Trust, for extorting Yahoo’s payment to her and her husband, listing 47 counts against, mainly, Harry Hongda Wu. According to No. 54 (page 17-18) of the Complaint, “Defendant Wu converted to his own use….one million dollars of Plaintiffs’ monies, which was to be held in trust, and transferred said funds into his own name, when he purchased an annuity in his own name from Trans America Capital Builders.” The Complaint also reveals how Harry Wu tried to control the payments to the two political prisoners from the very beginning, and is worth reading in its entirety for all the revelations it makes. The case was settled in April, 2011.
- During 2008 to 2015, LRF was plagued by one lawsuit after another, and its legal fees alone during this period are close to, or exceed (again, we haven’t seen the 2015 filing), one million dollars.
- We discovered more than one fraudulent asset transfer on the tax filings of LRF where a sum was transferred to a related organization, but there was no record of receiving that transfer on the other organization’s tax forms—this is regardless, for the time being, whether the transfer was appropriate or legal, and whether it was approved by the Board.
- The YHRF has been used for the operations of the Laogai Museum in Washington, DC, including to pay the salaries and benefits of executives and employees, museum installations, rent, real estate purchases, extravagant traveling expenses, large legal fees, and an assortment of other costs. The museum, according to former employees, has been sparsely visited and its educational programs nominal, little more than Mr. Wu giving a short lecture to an occasional touring student group. Over the past eight years, LRF has published merely a handful of reports and other publications. LRF’s research work has been slim, and in terms of quantity, quality, and thoroughness of reports, far from that of other, smaller rights organizations with much less funding.
- Yahoo’s General Counsel, first Michael Callahan, and then Ron Bell, has been the vice chairperson of the LHRO that oversees the Yahoo Human Rights Trust (Mr. Wu was the chairperson). According to its tax filing, it is responsible for reviewing and approving LRF’s operational budget and programs; it is responsible for reviewing and approving applications for humanitarian assistance, and “such decisions will be recorded in the corporation’s corporate record book before any money is disbursed.” But our findings indicate that neither the General Counsel, nor the boards of LHRO and LRF, have exercised their fiduciary duties. According to our investigation, the boards were not unaware of the misconduct of Mr. Wu, but they chose to look the other way instead of confronting him, let alone implement standard practices. We learned from a former employee that Yahoo’s current General Counsel Ron Bell even flew to Washington, D.C. in 2014 to voice his displeasure at the fact that so little of the funds had been used for humanitarian assistance. But he didn’t seem to do anything to correct the matter, since subsequently nothing changed.
At the end of February, we sent a letter to Mr. Ron Bell, essentially providing the same findings we are presenting here, though with somewhat fewer details. In a reply in March, he refused to address our concerns, citing confidentiality, and he said that our holding him partially accountable for the misuse of the YHRF is “misplaced and lacks merit.”
- A former LRF employee told us that the IRS investigated LRF between 2013 and 2014 and found its books chaotic, among other irregularities, almost revoking its tax-exempt status. In the end, LRF was given a fine.
- We’re unable to identify a date, but as far as we know, before Mr. Harry Wu’s passing, the humanitarian assistance had already ceased entirely.
Our investigation is no doubt very limited for understandable reasons, and we believe that our findings are merely the tip of the iceberg. Even though Mr. Wu suddenly died while outside the United States, at such an unusual time, the Laogai Research Foundation is still here, the Laogai Human Rights Organization is still here, and the two boards are still here. So is Yahoo!
First of all, we urge the two organizations’ boards to take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously, take actions to clean up the problems left behind by Mr. Wu, and do so in a transparent manner. These two organizations are tax-exempt charities serving the public interest, and they must be held accountable by the public.
We urge the media to investigate the use of Yahoo funds and the death of Mr. Wu—issuing an obituary is not the end of the story. Rather, it is the beginning of the story. We urge the US judiciary, law enforcement, and the IRS to conduct investigations and audits of LRF, LHRO and the abuses of the Yahoo Human Rights Fund, clarifying facts, identifying the responsible parties, auditing the funds, recovering the YHRF as much as possible, and making reasonable and transparent arrangements for the funds through consultation with the community of Chinese political prisoners.
Finally, we hope such investigations receive the attention and the help of the U. S. Congress and human rights organizations.
The Yahoo Human Rights Fund was intended for the entire community of Chinese political prisoners. It is a community that has long suffered humanitarian disasters caused by cruel persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, simply for their ideals and work toward helping build a free China. They suffer enormously and are in great need of financial relief, given that their activism often costs them their only source of income. Such relief is hard to come by from inside China. That the $17 million Yahoo Human Rights Fund (it would be over $18 million if including investment revenue from interest and dividends) has been abused, misused, and even embezzled is not only shocking, but inflicts direct damage on the Chinese dissident community.
Though most of us are far away in China, we believe that the rule of law will prevail in the U. S. and that justice will be done.
Everything we write in this statement is based on verifiable facts. It is our belief that our appeals to the American media, judicial system, Congress, and the public will be echoed widely by the community of Chinese political prisoners.
He Depu (何德普), Beijing, contact person, email@example.com
Yang Zili (杨子立), Shenzhen
Li Dawei (李大伟), Tianshui, Gansu province
Wang Jinbo (王金波), Beijing
Ouyang Yi (欧阳懿), Suining, Sichuan
Xu Yonghai (徐永海), Beijing
Liu Fenggang (刘凤刚), Canada
Beijing Time, 10pm, April 28, 2016
Biographies of the Seven Political Prisoners (in the order of their arrest):
Yang Zili was on March 13, 2001, along with three others, detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” This case became the well-known “New Youth Study Group.” The crimes cited in the judgement include “using the Internet to publicize essays, and preparing to organize a website and online publication,” as well as “using the Internet to publicize” articles of political commentary. On May 28, 2003 Yang was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment by the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court; the Beijing Supreme People’s Court upheld the sentence after appeal on November 6, 2003.
Li Dawei was detained on April 15, 2001, on charges of subversion of state power. The judgement against him said that his “criminal” activities included using the Internet to publicize an open letter, and “using the Internet” to send letters to activists outside of China, as well as using the Internet to collect information, etc. The Tianshui Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Gansu Province sentenced Li to 11 years imprisonment on July 17, 2003.
Wang Jinbo was detained on May 24, 2001, for inciting subversion of state power. On December 4, 2001, Wang was sentenced to four years imprisonment by the Linyi Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Shandong Province. The court verdict makes clear that Wang was made a criminal for his speech.
He Depu was summoned by police on November 4, 2002; he was 85 days later formally arrested and charged with the crime of inciting subversion of state power. The evidence used in trial was almost solely composed of the contents of his email communications and “provocative” articles published online or with his signature. The court verdict repeatedly quoted from evidence obtained by the the Beijing municipal Public Security Bureau’s “Public Information Cyberspace Security Division.” On November 6, 2003, He Depu was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment by the Beijing Municipal First Intermediate People’s Court. After completing his sentence in 2011, He Depu published the article “The Darkest 85 Days,” in which he described the torture he suffered in secret detention from November 4, 2002 until January 27, 2003. He was locked in a small room with no windows and forced to lay in a fixed posture on a wooden bed; between four and six guards were positioned around him 24 hours a day, watching him. He could not move, could not change the position of his body, could not sit down, could not speak, and could not shower, change his clothes, or shave. Every movement that he made, including scratching an itch, first required gaining permission. In the 8 years of jail that followed, He Depu was tortured innumerable times. In November 2005, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, saw He Depu in the Beijing No. 2 Prison (an impossibility in today’s China), and in his subsequent report on torture in China specifically emphasized that he was “left with a deep impression” by the torture that He Depu had suffered.
Ouyang Yi was detained by the Chengdu Municipal Public Security bureau on December 5, 2002. The evidence referred to in his court verdict includes: an open letter to the central leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2002, sent to friends via email, and “sent using email to overseas websites and propagated online.” On March 1, 2004, the Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, in Sichuan Province, sentenced Ouyang Yi to 2 years imprisonment for the crime of inciting subversion of state power.
Xu Yonghai and Liu Fenggang are of the same case. They were arrested in Hangzhou and charged with “suspicion of illegally providing state secrets and information for those out of borders” on October 13 and November 9, 2003, respectively. The charges against them related to an investigative report they had compiled on the persecution of Christian house churches around China. The verdict said that this investigation had “been provided to foreign personnel through email.” On August 6, 2004, the two individuals were sentenced respectively to 2 and 3 years imprisonment.
Apart from Liu Fenggang, who has left China, the remaining six are still active in the defense of human rights in China; they are still subject to government surveillance, summonses, and interrogation. Xu Yonghai, the pastor in a house church in Beijing, is often harassed by the government as well.
By Yaxue Cao, April 17, 2016
This story has been updated.
On Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the new managing director of Twitter for the Greater China region. By Saturday the news had excited a fierce reaction among Twitter users in China.
It’s well known that Twitter, YouTube, Google and other major social media networks are banned in mainland China. While there aren’t many users of Twitter in the mainland (one estimate has it that there are roughly 10,000 active users), those who do use it are among the most ardent believers in internet freedom, and have a special love for Twitter. A large number are IT experts who migrated from Fanfou (a Chinese social media site) in 2009 and became almost religious users of Twitter; another large group are political dissidents. The former group can’t stand being stifled by the Great Firewall’s internet strictures, while the latter uses Twitter as a space where they can communicate to one another freely even as China continues to ratchet up internet controls. Twitter has thus become an enclave for a group of mainland Chinese users and a sanctuary of freedom of speech online. Over the last couple of years, Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency have also opened Twitter accounts, spreading Party propaganda to the world, apparently with no sense of shame that China’s government prevents its own citizens from using those social networks. And it should surprise no one that on Twitter they’re often the butt of jokes.
It’s only natural that Chinese Twitter users were highly curious about Twitter’s new managing director for Greater China—and they were repelled instantly. According to Baike, China’s equivalent of Wikipedia controlled by Baidu, Kathy Chen (陈葵) graduated with a degree in computer science from Beijing Jiaotong University in 1987. She immediately joined the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery—China’s strategic missile force—and became an engineer in its No. 1 Research Academy. There, according to another article, she worked “as a programmer on the top-secret missile protocol design.” After seven years in the Second Artillery, she returned to civilian life and in August of 1994 became head of sales at Digital Equipment Corporation in China. DEC is a Massachusetts-based specialty computer company founded in 1957, and one of the earliest of America’s computer firms. From June 1995 to May 1997 she was Compaq’s chief sales representative in Beijing, and from May 1997 to December 1999 was the China regional sales manager for 3Com.
For the next four years, until 2004, Chen was the CEO of a newly-founded software company called CA-Jinchen, which primarily supplies anti-virus software. The firm is a joint venture between Computer Associates International (now known as CA Technologies) and China’s Ministry of Public Security, the first US-China software joint venture. Leveraging the resources of China’s public security apparatus, CA-Jinchen’s products are used in finance, government, the military, enterprises, telecommunications, education, the energy sector, and many key network systems. Reviewing CA-Jinchen’s 10-year history in 2008, Chen’s successor said: “China Jinchen Security Technology Co., Ltd. joined with the second-largest global software firm Computer Associations in a strategic partnership, promoting anti-virus technology globally and bringing ‘Preemptible Kernel’ technology into China.” She also remarked that: “Public security, the military, and the government are the troika behind Jinchen.” In 2010, CA’s 80% holding in CA-Jinchen was bought out by two Chinese investment firms (the transaction might not be as willing on the part of CA as the Chinese media portrayed it to be), and Jinchen became a corporation solely-owned by China. “Research and development is focused on preventing information leaks, designing anti-spy and code-breaking software. The user base will remain the traditional market: large domestic enterprises, government, public security, and will include a renewed focus on our roots in the military-industrial sector.”
Are there any problems here? To begin with, Chen is without a doubt a Chinese Communist Party member, based on a common sense understanding of China. She has been through the most strict and exacting process of political examination, and has been found by the Party to be reliable—all this is certain. My sense is that Kathy Chen’s rapid shift from extremely secret and politically sensitive missile protocol design work, straight to an American software company, is very unusual: in China, even a regular member of the armed forces dealing with secret information isn’t allowed to make overseas visits as they wish, either while in the army or soon after leaving (I have some anecdotal evidence here and here). They may apply, but I understand that it’s difficult to gain approval. I think it’s a fair assertion that Kathy Chen’s transition from a programmer of top-secret missile protocol to DEC sales could only have happened with the approval of a Chinese government agency. And then there are the four years with CA-Jinchen, which raises questions about the depth of Chen’s involvement in China’s public security sector.
When she was the CEO of CA-Jinchen, Chen once used the term “3S” to describe the scope of the company’s work: “Security Solution” provides the user with a complete security program, including anti-virus, firewall, intrusion detection, defense, and weakness detection mechanisms, among others, for the host machine, internet traffic, and the internet peripheries; “Security Application” provides on-demand security programs for government, telecommunications, finance, energy, and enterprise firms; and “Security Service” enquires as to the needs of the client and provides a complete, customized security service, from spec to roll-out, as well as ongoing consultation.
The main products of CA-Jinchen included anti-virus, firewall, invasion test, email filtering, mainframe protection, and etc. Describing a product called “The First Fortress Under the Heaven (天下第一关) in a 2004 interview, she said it could kill virus, block spam, and “filter Falun Gong content, politically sensitive information, or other harmful information.” CA-Jinchen also provided products for university campus surveillance on online browsing activities and other “illegal information and emails (such as Falun Gong).”
In the same interview, she also acknowledged that CA-Jinchen was the host of China’s national computer virus collecting and sampling center under the aegis of the Ministry of Public Security.
In May, 2004, Chen Kui was awarded the China Information Security Special Contribution Award (中国信息安全保障突出贡献奖) by a consortium of state agencies overseeing China’s internet security.
Following CA-Jinchen, Chen served in a high-level capacity at Microsoft, Cisco and then Microsoft again. As Cisco’s general manager of the Eastern Region, her job “included market development, and building and developing relationship with government agencies, research and educational institutions, and enterprises. In particular, [she] dedicated to maintain good relationship with government departments and their direct affiliations, engaging in broad strategic cooperation on macro level.” Cisco has long been criticized for selling advanced internet surveillance and control software to China, having allegedly helped the Party build its Firewall and Golden Shield to target dissidents, according to two legal complaints (both dismissed, one still under appeal).
During the two years at Microsoft before she takes up the Twitter position, she was responsible, among other things, “for key initiatives for Microsoft Azure in China,” according to her LinkedIn page.
Tech media outside China reported the appointment briefly and matter-of-factly. Twitter said in a statement, “As a global platform, we are already engaged with advertisers, content providers and influencers across greater China to help them reach audiences around the world. Going forward, we will look to Kathy’s leadership to help us identify ways in which Twitter’s platform and technology assets can be utilized to create further value for enterprises, creators, influencers, partners and developers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.”
The appointment of Kathy Chen was also widely reported in mainland China, even though Twitter is banned. Netease Tech reported that it learned from Twitter insiders that Kathy Chen has “three clear goals” as the Managing Director of Greater China: “the first is to tell the China story, introducing to the world the best of Chinese culture, tradition, history and tourism and making China better known to the world utilizing the Twitter platform; the second is to help large and medium-sized Chinese companies tell the story of their brands, building their names and marketing overseas; the third is to communicate and exchange in the areas of technology and advertisement with rapidly growing Chinese internet companies and mobile internet companies.”
All this may sound innocuous to untrained ears, but it’s alarming to mainland Chinese Twitter users and seasoned China watchers: In February, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping warned mouthpiece media CCTV and Xinhua that they must do a good job of “telling the China story.” CCTV responded with the notorious slogan: “The Party’s media bears the surname of the Party!” Getting Chinese companies to advertise on Twitter is obviously a revenue stream, but what does it mean to “communicate and exchange with Chinese internet companies and mobile internet companies in technology and advertisements?” It sounds unnerving to Chinese Twitter users.
While direct Twitter censorship is unlikely, the Chinese Twitter users are concerned that the hiring of Chen Kui could be the beginning of Twitter’s cooperation (it does not have to be overt) with the Public Security apparatus and mobile companies in China that will make use of Twitter more difficult for independent users, but at the same time, open up Twitter to government-owned accounts, to government-hired propaganda workers known as fifty-centers, and dubious sales accounts, thus changing – or trashing – the Chinese language environment on Twitter. After all such change has occurred already on domestic microblogs over the last couple of years.
The Chinese govt has long been weary of Twitter as a fertile ground for anti-CCP sentiments and a place where dissidents gather. The Chinese government’s fear of a color revolution and Twitter’s role in recent social changes in other countries are well known.
Until the day of her appointment, the new Managing Director of the Greater China region was not a Twitter user. In a video clip, she greeted Twitter users with the equally new @TwitterGCN account. It’s clear that she has little understanding of the Twitter ecology. Of her total 15 tweets, the 6th encouraged @CCTVNews and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to “work together to tell the great China story to the world!” The 10th thanked @XHNews with: “look forward to closer partnership in the future!”
My friend @Yaqiu was appalled. “Twitter working with CCTV to tell the story of China? I can’t believe she said this. I’ve taken a screen grab.”
Another user pointed out, “Greater China = PRC, HK, Taiwan – people in TW/HK are NOT interested in CCP’s ‘great story’.” Indeed, China story means different things to different audiences.
Chinese tweeps—though not just Chinese tweeps—sneered out of disappointment and concern. I share their disgust, but I’m also deeply saddened, because just recently these same tweeps sang the tenderest tribute to Twitter on its 10th birthday. I had been encountering these tweeps everyday on Twitter, but hadn’t until that point known that they were so smart, witty, genuine and free.
One tweep was brutal. “Twitter has between 300 and 400 million users around the world. Nobody cares about the 10,0000 or 20,000 mainland Chinese users—do whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go.” But it turns out he was deeply troubled as well.
Yaxue Cao is the editor of this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.
A Month or so in the House of Twitter, by Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
China Change, March 24, 2016.
In no particular order and with a couple of exceptions, we sample Chinese netizens’ thoughts on March 21, 2016, Twitter’s 10th anniversary. We don’t know who else will be touched by this, but we certainly are. – The Editors
乌鸦哥哥 @wuyagege : Twitter is like a small cafe that never closes. People come and go, connecting with each other in ways both lasting and fleeting. You can exchange a few words if you feel the urge, otherwise everyone goes about their own business. After these many years, I have so many friends from all over, both old and new. Some have faded away, others are still around. Still others have been made to vanish. I somehow manage to continue on. I cherish the fact that a place like this exists, where you can pull up a bar stool and manage to find a way to enjoy some freedom and relax a while.
浅洚 / Valerie @knifepoint : In August 2009 I was wearing the Twitter Tee designed by GeekCook @digitalboy. That summer I sent Xu Zhiyong (@zhiyongxu) a postcard and weeped over Tan Zuoren’s essay. Through using dabr to get on Twitter, I started to learn how to get around the Great Firewall. That was the summer I stopped being a little commie and turned into a rebel . . . the first day of the rest of my life.
Michael @zombie023 : I love Twitter the Great, and don’t know what I’d do if it comes to an end.
Akira Yan @akirayan : Through Twitter, I get so much more information than any of my classmates inside the Great Firewall. To this day, some of them remain convinced that I have a team of people who are funded by a foreign government and who helps me to research, since I can always debunk their lies in a matter of minutes.
刘晓原律师 @liu_xiaoyuan : Today’s the 10th anniversary of Twitter’s founding. When Twitter founder Jack Dorsey visited China in 2012, he could only tweet by sending text messages back to the US:
@jack: Hello, Shanghai. Unfortunately, I can’t read Twitter in China.
@aiww: Hello, Jack.
@jack: Hello, Lord Ai.
@aiww: Let’s work hard to get Twitter into China.
书叔 @gavinleehead : I love Twitter because I can curse whomever I want and say whatever I like here. Here there are no sensitive words, no messages that can’t be displayed “according to the relevant laws,” and no risk of having your account shut down at any moment. I have a group of followers who share messages that can’t be shared inside the Great Firewall and I can share that information with others without having to worry. I can curse those 50-cent idiots . . . And on the most important occasions, I don’t need to worry about keyword filtering.
不卖内裤的大叔 @NalaGinrut : Actually, everyone knows that it’s not Twitter I love, but female tweeps.
张贾龙 @zhangjialong : I joined Twitter in November 2009. That’s when I got my first taste of freedom. In May 2010, state security police in Guizhou invited me to tea over some sensitive things I’d said online. In April 2011, police in Beijing summoned me for questioning for 24 hours and searched my place over a tweet. Four days after I got home, they gave me a 10-day administrative detention for “disrupting social order by using overseas website Twitter to post false information that was reposted 37 times.”
兔爷 @rbttt : I’m not going to get melodramatic: Twitter is great.
Jian Alan Huang @hnjhj: To me, Twitter is both newspaper and television, classroom and bookstore, teahouse and bar, shopping mall and theater. It’s both a society and a way of life. Twitter has come to replace a number of things in my life. Every day, I’m forced to sift through oceans of information, consider different viewpoints, and endlessly refine my own thinking. I’m probably one of only a few people who reads every single tweet, and I’ve never blocked a single person. And, I’ve had the good fortune to meet 119 tweeps in real life.
马了个 @majunlive : I never see anyone say anything bad about Twitter in my timeline. It’s all deep expressions of gratitude or emotion, as if a website had been endowed with a soul. You may be only a “machine,” but you have far more dignity than [Mark] Zuckerberg.
陈闯创 @1957spirit : On Twitter’s 10th anniversary, the first thing that comes to mind for me isn’t that “Big V” Jia Jia @jajia, but people like Zhang Haitao (@xjvisa), Ying Ligang (@ylg9712), and Wang Yi (@Wangyi09) who’ve gone to prison or been sent to re-education through labor for things they posted on Twitter. And then there are even more unknown Chinese Twitter users who’ve simply vanished.
Victor @chuhan : I’ve been on Twitter almost seven of the past 10 years. Early on, I’d use dabr and embr, then to save bandwidth costs I stopped loading avatar images. Later, I used Gravity on my Nokia E63. To this day I fondly recall how convenient it was to scroll through and post to Twitter on that phone. More recently, I used Tweetbot and T4C on iOS. In the end, I started using the official app.
zengshensi @zengshensi : One day in 2009, I was on Twitter while crossing an intersection in a small town in Zhongshan (Guangdong province). A tweep with a cute monkey pirate avatar asked me where Ms. He Qinglian (@heqinglian) had gone. Later on this tweep became my wife, and we have a daughter who is now three and a half years old.
Shengyi Wang @txyyss : Twitter is practically the only way an old homebody like me has to make new friends. I hope it will stay around forever.
东先生 @MyDF : The Chinese Twitter scene is where a bunch of Chinese who’ve self-exiled themselves gather to enjoy the free Internet and break down the information imbalance created by the Great Firewall. Twitter’s Chinese circle deserves a round of applause for undercutting the authority of the state media.
牟山夫 @even5435 : In the 7-8 years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve witnessed all of the big online events. I feel fortunate to have been able to stick around. Thanks to Google and Twitter for being the Zion in my own spiritual Matrix. Thanks to the selfless ones who developed tools for scaling the wall. Thanks to those friends whom I don’t know in real life but share common goals. I hope we can all soldier on until the dawn breaks.
哲尔夫 @Zeove : When I first came to Twitter, I was terrified by you guys. So much anti-CCP talk everywhere you turned. It doesn’t bother me as much these days, since I know that all told those guys don’t even outnumber a square-full of dancing grannies.
吴发课 @wufake : Of the 10 years of Twitter, 2009-2011 was the golden era of Chinese Twitter. Since then, changes in the sociopolitical environment, the rise of social media inside China, and the diversification of the Chinese Internet have led to the gradual decline of Chinese Twitter. But I remain convinced that Twitter has had an irreplaceable value to the revolutionary nature of the Chinese language. Freedom of expression will always be the most fundamental part of universal values.
wailon @doctor8888 : My two deepest impressions of the Chinese Twitter scene (if you don’t count the Jasmine Revolution, which everyone’s familiar with) are two online actions. The first was when Ai Weiwei borrowed money [to pay his tax fine] and the second was the mobilization of tweeps to support Wang Lihong (@wlh8964) by gathering outside the courthouse on the day of her trial. Actually, Twitter’s most important role is to provide a space for what can be considered free discussion. Thanks to debate online, the plans for a number of actions became much more realistic. This sort of “republic” is essential for collective action, without a doubt.
明天我就不追了 @oohlalalevre : I began playing with Twitter during my freshman year at university. Since then, I’ve gone through a few different accounts, deleting one and setting up a new one and so on. It’s simply impossible for me to leave. Isn’t that what love is about? As soon as you part you start thinking about being near each other again. I think Twitter must me my true love.
初夜 @eachgo : Mm-hm, promise me you’ll stay here with me until Twitter goes bust.
冉云飞 @ranyunfei : Twitter celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday. I’ve been on Twitter for seven years. Generally, I haven’t stuck around consistently on too many websites, but I’ve stayed on Twitter more or less the whole time. I don’t want to get too emotional, but when I write my memoirs one day and look back at my life and my various spiritual journeys, Twitter will be an irreplaceable part of the story. Compared to those sites that delete posts every time you turn around, so brutal that at any moment they can erase you without a trace, a record of one’s Twitter timeline resembles a chronicle of a person’s life.
SUN @sunzhiyi : In 2009, Fanfou* voluntarily shut its service down on the sensitive anniversary of June Fourth. After the incident in Xinjiang, it went completely dark. So, the refugees all came to Twitter. Many years later, and still no one’s kicked us out yet.
DR.K @kielboat : In a thesis back in 2010, I categorized active Twitter users as an opposition group. Even though a lot of them seemed as if they were only pretending and engaging in “opposition lite,” they still took part and became part of a common opposition culture on Twitter. For the first time, opposition no longer follows the earlier model of the wretched and hysterical dissidents making impassioned outcries about how hopeless everything is. Instead, Twitter is more of an opposition lifestyle and a great platform for communication.
老貓 @octw : A single tweet travels thousands of miles, carrying my thoughts to five continents.
StarKnight @StarKnight : I’ve been on Twitter for nine of its 10 years. Fleeting thoughts in this brief life have become a long and voluminous river of information. As long as one drop of water can meet up with other drops of water, the river will never run dry.
莫之许 @mozhixu : I once said that when the number of [Chinese] Twitter users surpassed one million, the dictatorship would be finished. Now that we’re in a time when even patriotic little commies are getting past the Great Firewall, I guess I ought to specify that they need to be liberal Twitter users. Unfortunately, it’s six years later and not only aren’t there a million users but the number of liberal [Chinese] Twitter users has been in decline and they’re less active than before. Some of the public intellectuals who were once on Twitter have even abandoned it altogether. But this is okay. Even if Twitter can’t be an engine [of change] under neo-totalitarian repression, at least it can be our own little backyard!
基德酱 @akid_ : All I can say is that I don’t even bother to wash my hair when I go out to eat with friends who don’t have a Twitter ID.
ZHealoT @zhealot : I test my access to Twitter when I test tools for getting around the Great Firewall. Every time I saw that little blue bird, it reminded me of how it used to feel, when I was a kid, at the moment the lights came back on after we’d had a power outage.
*Fanfou, 饭否, was China’s first social media platform, an imitation of Twitter that predated Sina Weibo. It was shut down on July 7, 2009, resulting in a large exodus of China’s earliest social media users to Twitter.
A Month or so in the House of Twitter, by Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
China Change, March 16, 2016
At around 8:15 p.m. on March 15, the Chinese columnist Jia Jia (贾葭) disappeared, after going to the Beijing airport in the afternoon for a flight to Hong Kong. The incident is believed to be connected to an open letter to Xi Jinping published on the website www.watching.cn (无界新闻).
Jia Jia told to friends privately that, on March 4 when he learned from a WeChat friend circle about the letter’s appearance on watching.cn, he contacted the Executive Director Ouyang Hongliang (欧阳洪亮), who was a former colleague of his, about it. When the censorship authorities investigated the incident, Ouyang, in response to questioning, said he’d first heard about it from Jia Jia. Soon thereafter, family members of Jia Jia in Shaanxi Province were also questioned by authorities.
Before Jia Jia left for Hong Kong, he told a number of friends that he was afraid that he’d be detained and subject to questioning.
The open letter in question carried the byline “Loyal Communist Party members,” and was titled “Open letter demanding that Comrade Xi Jinping resign from his post as leader of the Party and state.” It appeared at 00:00:00 on March 4 in the “One Belt, One Road” section of the watching.cn site (see photo below). It was on the opening day of the “Two Sessions” — the annual assemblies of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — in Beijing.
Soon after the letter appeared in watching.cn, an online media outlet funded by the Xinjiang propaganda department (as well as Alibaba and the SEEC Media Group), it went viral online, and the website was shut down. After the website came back online, the article had been deleted.
The open letter was first published in the overseas Chinese website Canyu.org at 8:47pm Beijing Time on March 3, Canyu editor Mr. Cai Chu told China Change. He said that he received the letter in his private email that day. The same letter was also posted on Mingjing (明镜) website at 8:56 March 4 (we assume that was Beijing Time as well).
So the timeline of the letter’s publication seems to be as follow (Beijing Time):
20:47, Mar 3 http://www.canyu.org/n110479c6.aspx
00:00, Mar 4 watching.cn
The letter (full translation) criticizes Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping for directly seizing authority and policymaking over the economy, the cultural sphere, and foreign relations, and argues that all these areas have regressed since Xi came to power, creating “unprecedented crises.”
Friends told China Change that it’s highly unlikely that Jia Jia wrote the letter or had anything to do at all with its appearance on watching.cn.
Jia Jia is a columnist, author, and well-known media personality whose commentaries are published widely. He publishes a regular column in Tencent Online. He is a former editor at Tencent, Hong Kong’s iSun Affairs Weekly, and Initium. Jia Jia currently resides in Hong Kong.
Articles by Jia Jia on China Change:
You’ve Got Candles, I’ve Got a Whip, August 16, 2015.