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Jeff Rambin, December 11, 2018
“There is no word for the pain, sadness, humiliation and anger I feel in my heart.” After six years and four months of tweeting, Wang Jiangsong was forced to delete his account. Wang calls himself a “labor scholar,” but he is too modest. William Nee of Amnesty International calls Wang “arguably the most prominent labor academic in China.” This is due not only to Wang’s scholarship, but also to his connections, and most importantly, his compassion. Wang’s perspective has been relied on by the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, and Reuters. Last year, Wang became part of the news himself. As reported by Radio Free Asia, officials in a Beijing neighborhood used a November fire as a chance to evict migrant workers. With winter effectively underway, Wang and others not only set up shelters for the workers, but also penned an open letter condemning the evictions as illegal.
In a farewell tweet, Wang said that the deletion was “due to force majeure which you all understand.” Though he said that “the sun will continue to rise,” Wang spoke of the deletion of his account as an “obituary.”
5,614 tweets to more than 23,300 followers will be gone in a few hours.
[As of now Prof. Wang’s handle is still alive, and he’s subsequently tweeted an account of the police visit.]
This happened on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, the day after the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
As followers of ChinaChange.org are aware, Wang Jiangsong’s story is far from isolated. It is part of a recent and accelerating crackdown on the use of Twitter by Chinese authorities. On November 9, 2018, Wu Gan’s Twitter account was deleted. That deletion carries concerns of its own, because Wu has been in prison since 2015. What is more, the deletion was unannounced. Yaxue Cao just happened to be online at the right time to see it go down. As with Wang Jiansong, Wu Gan used his Twitter account for the cause of the oppressed. Time and again, Wu rallied support to those who were ignored.
30,277 tweets from 2009 to 2015. Erased as though they never existed.
The list of names is rapidly growing. The campaign against Chinese Twitter users is being followed with increasing alarm on Twitter itself. It has been reported by outlets including Beijing Spring, the Epoch Times, the Hong Kong Free Press & Agence France Presse, and Human Rights Watch. As reported by Eva Xiao of AFP: “Despite being blocked in China, Twitter and other overseas social media sites have long been used freely by activists and government critics to address subjects that are censored on domestic forums — until now.” More and more Chinese Twitter users are receiving invitations to “drink tea” at the police station. To put it mildly, this is a consent issue. These accounts are not being deleted voluntarily.
What Wang, Wu, and so many others are up against is the “People’s Republic of Amnesia,” as described by former BBC and NPR reporter Lousia Lim in her book by that title. Indeed, the first rule of imposed political amnesia is that there is no amnesia; China has banned novelist Ma Jiang’s book China Dream, in which he describes both the efforts to erase memories, and the way those memories come back to the surface like a ball which has been held under the water.
The systematic campaign to erase history is now reaching out to Twitter users. Not via technological means, but by the knock on the door in the middle of the night.
This is loss on a staggering scale, and the worst of it is that there’s no way of knowing exactly how bad it is. How do you account for the damage done by severing the connections of someone like Wang Jiansong? How do you assess the impact of the collective body of free-minded people tweeting everyday acts of individuality? We can get some idea of their value from the extent to which oppressors are going.
Has the next Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel, or Martin Luther King, Jr., been formulating ideas tweet-by-tweet? Purists might laugh, but I wonder if today’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, or at least its existence and how to access it, wouldn’t be spread via Twitter. Imagine such tweets permanently disappearing.
Imagine that the perpetrators of the June 4, 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square had the ability to delete every image of Tank Man. No doubt they would.
That is not an armchair historian’s counterfactual. Through the deletion of Twitter accounts, we are losing the record of what is happening right now in the Xinjiang camps. We are also losing the record of non-Uighur Chinese who are trying to stop that atrocity. In other words, this is not only about a historical record. Twitter users are trying to save lives in the here and now.
The “Dual Key” System
What is Twitter going to do about this? Twitter may not have the resources to investigate consent in so many cases. Besides, determining whether a deletion was voluntary or under duress could embroil Twitter in political issues. Same for issuing a blanket order that no deletions will be permitted from China, or any other country. Twitter is by-and-large, what the users make of it.
Given what is at stake, though, Twitter should find a way to do something.
The point of a dual key system would be to protect the dissenter, the dissenter’s tweets, and Twitter. Twitter would not be involved in assessing consent.
The second key would be held by a person of the primary account holder’s choosing, most likely in another country. The second key holder would have no ability to tweet, only the ability to approve or veto deletions. The conditions under which deletion would be permitted would be determined up front between the keyholders.
Such a program presents moral quandaries. To state but one: If the ground rules between key holders are to never delete no matter the circumstances, do you abide by that as a second key holder?
The thing is, we are already in the moral quandary whether we acknowledge it or not. As things stand, when the knock on the door comes, Chinese Twitter users are alone. And we’re letting that happen, pretending that none of the responsibility falls on us. To my mind, though, as I’ve gone about my daily business, I’ve been a free rider on what Wang Jiangsong and so many others have done and are doing to fight darkness in this world. So in some way I owe this to him — even though we’re a world apart and we’ve never met. Perhaps others see things the same way. Perhaps Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or others would be willing to coordinate this with volunteers from around the world. Electricians, teachers, retirees, college students – the variety of volunteers will be surprising.
This is about connection and shared burden. When a Twitter user is sitting in an interrogation room facing a demand to delete their account, they should not be alone. The very existence of a second key holder changes the dynamic in that room. If a deletion request is made, the notification to the second key holder will be a pre-arranged call for help. A dual key system turns the table on the interrogator by shining a light into a dark place.
Please, Twitter, do something. Brave dissidents are already risking punishment by speaking. Give them the option of a dual key account to preserve their words. In these trying times give us reason to sing “All people become brothers where your gentle wing abides.”
Jeff Rambin is a father and attorney from Tyler, Texas. He is a lifelong student of history and politics. Years ago, he served as the chairperson of the foreign-policy focused Wiley Lecture Series at Texas A&M. Memories of 1989 have stuck with him. At some point he grew sick of reading books and watching the news and decided that he had to do something.
He can be followed on Twitter at @RespectHope.
China Steps up Nationwide Crackdown to Silence Twitter Users – the Unmediated Story, Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018.
Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018
If you have been with Twitter’s simplified Chinese community long enough, you know it’s nothing new that handles disappear and in some cases the persons behind them go to jail – it’s a freedom tunnel that the Chinese Communist regime is leery of.
But over the last few months, and still ongoing, we keep hearing mainland tweeps reporting that they have been summoned by police who ordered them to delete tweets or accounts altogether. AFP’s Eva Xiao and Human Rights Watch’s Yaqiu Wang reported on the trend early on. I myself reported one particular instance – the deletion of Wu Gan (吴淦)’s account.
As of today, I collected 42 tweets from users themselves tweeting about what had happened to them. Some are well-known journalists, dissidents and intellectuals. Others are average tweeps who may or may not be anonymous. Some have been on Twitter for several years, others are new to it. In a few cases, tweeps were given administrative detention of 10 or more days; in at least one case, a user in Chongqing has been criminally detained awaiting charges. Some faced the run-in with police with composure, and others with defiance; still others were scared and quit, or made to quit. Together they tell the unmediated story.
The tweets are arranged chronologically. A few are excerpted for brevity. Necessary explanatory information is provided in [brackets and italic]. A link to the original tweet in Chinese is embedded in the last two words of the translation. If the link is broken, it means, in most cases, that the police came back to the tweep pressuring him or her to delete it.
Today I was summoned to my neighborhood police station for retweeting political rumors. I was reprimanded, and made to write a statement of repentance and another statement guaranteeing that I wouldn’t do it again. They deleted my tweets. This handle is going to be abandoned. Goodbye friends. I love you all.
Just moments ago, a policeman from my hometown (Chengshuang Township police station, Dangshan county, Suzhou municipality, Anhui province) called me and said they are going to come to Shanghai to look for me again (they did during June 4th). I guess it’s about my Twitter. Now, since they are monitoring my posts, let me tell the internet police and the domestic security police right here and now: It’s impossible for me not to speak. Speech is my last line说话是我的底线. You can come to arrest me if you want to charge me for my expressions. It’s no use to come to talk to me. Why don’t you save the money and use it on keeping people safe.
Beijing tweep Quan Shixin (全世欣 @Sarah_chinaBJ) has been administratively detained for 10 days for “attacking leaders of the communist party and the state.” She was released around noon and returned home on September 21.
On October 1, 9 am, two guobao police summoned me to the neighborhood police workstation for a talk, which was transcribed and also video recorded. Their key points are: 1). Recently I posted too many original tweets and retweets on Twitter as well as WeChat, and the content is all negative; 2) Who called for the group trip to Tiananmen Square on Sept. 20? 3) They once again issued a warning and criticism.
[He Depu (何德普) is a veteran dissident and served an eight-year sentence during 2003-2011 on charges of inciting subversion.]
A police officer from my hometown called, asking me to delete tweets. He said the higher authorities investigating internet speech found my posts. I was somewhat puzzled because I had hardly said anything. The call was made to my father’s house, so my old father, who is in his 70s, was frightened once again. Feeling so bad about it, I called home to comfort him.
[Li Xuewen is a Hubei-based dissident writer. He was detained for taking part in the seaside commemoration of Liu Xiaobo in Guangdong in 2017. ]
On the afternoon of October 27, three police officers from the neighborhood police station made a surprise visit. The guests and the host quickly exchanged views about Twitter. The police asked me to “delete account” and stop using Twitter. I said that is unacceptable, but I voluntarily promised to self-censor what I say in order to reduce the waste of police resources and avoid upsetting loved ones so frequently. After communicating for an hour, the meeting ended in an awkward but still friendly atmosphere. For the record.
[Wen Tao (文涛) is a journalist who was disappeared for 83 days and subjected to torture in 2011 for his association with artist Ai Weiwei.]
Per appointment, I met with Shenzhen guobao this afternoon, and the subject was not to badmouth the Party and state leaders. We also exchanged views on international and domestic affairs. This must be a nationwide operation. Now, my question is: what move is this preparing for?
[This is one of the earliest Chinese Twitter users – since May 2009.]
October 21, 2018, lunar calendar Sept. 13, was my birthday. It was unforgettable! Goodbye, Twitter.
[Wang Yajun describes himself as a “renowned joke teller, independent commentator, Taobao store owner, and internet Big V verified by CAC.” He’s been an active presence in Beijing’s intellectual circles for years. He was detained in Keshan county, Heilongjiang province, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 30 for “provoking disturbances. A couple of days after he posted this tweet on Oct. 31, his account was deleted. ]
Liu Jichun (刘继春, @wugefy1) is formally arrested this morning after being detained for 30 days. Lao Liu ran a small, 40 square-meter eatery in Shapingba area in Chongqing. He was the chef and his wife the assistant. A lawyer has met him a couple of times, and found out that the charges against him have to do with him retweeting various news. Request for bail was denied by the public security bureau, and a request for dismissal was denied by the prosecutors. It’s pretty clear that his is speech crime.
How do you speak freely on Twitter from the evil Communist-ruled land without being summoned by the police for ‘drinking tea’?
I drank tea just two days ago.
[Zhan Lifan is an independent historian and commentator in Beijing.]
Hometown police called and said I cursed the leaders on Twitter. I only have a few posts and they were not posted on Twitter. I hereby state: I have not cursed them!
For the last year or so, I have posted nearly nothing on Twitter. Lately there have been tweeps I know who were summoned and forced to delete their Twitter, including quite a few of my friends. So I’m compelled to talk again. Throughout history, in China or elsewhere, the tyrants always think the day will not break if they kill all the roosters that crow at the dawn; everything will be fine if they could make people too afraid to speak. No matter how long the night, we will live to see the dawn.
[Ye Du is a dissident and writer living in Guangzhou.]
I was detained, and made to sit through the night in the cold. Goodbye, Twitter, be safe. Maybe I should just be one of those people who think life in China is peace and quiet.
[I spoke to @zwitterion2018. He lives in a central province. “I don’t know how they found me,” he said. “They came all of a sudden. They asked me questions, took me, and detained me for a night. Then they investigated me and found that I had no associations. So they let me go. At the same time they deleted my Twitter feed.” He said they threatened him that if he tweets again he’d be put in jail. They also explained that they were local police carrying out an order from the national security, and they themselves don’t want to detain him. “It was my first time,” he said, “I’m very afraid.” I asked why he was still on Twitter, he said the worst that could happen to him is jail.]
This was end-of-the-world maniac: I received a call from guobao who demanded that I pledge not to get on Twitter anymore. How is it possible for me not to get on Twitter? They may as well kill me.
[This is a new tweep joined in May, 2018. In another tweet, he said that, to avoid being harassed by the “Zhao family’s dogs”, he took out his sim card and uses only Wifi to surf internet.]
Officer Zhou, of Donghu police station in Chaoyang District, Beijing, do you call yourself the ‘people’s police’ when you prohibit people from speaking out about their thoughts, their grievances, their call for justice so that you can serve the Party you belong to and its leaders with all your heart and mind? When you shut people up, how are you different from the Nazis during 1937 – 1945?
Lately Chinese tweeps have encountered a widespread crackdown. No wonder they went to my former employer to look for me in early September. Thank goodness I have left.
[This tweep seems to be living in Florida now.]
Guobao had an appointment with me this evening. I was forced to pledge that I would not post any political expressions on any online platform anymore. The fact is I haven’t for the past year or so, but still there have been so many eyes staring at me. Huh, we all know it anyway. So I’ll just leave it now.
Friend said to me privately that the whole country is campaigning to extinguish Twitter. Guobao twice asked me to delete all my tweets. I promised I won’t retweet anymore and deleted retweets of the last two days. Guobao said I ought to pay attention to my own safety. I said, “Unless you physically cut off the internet or put me in jail, or I’m going to follow the teachings of Deng Xiaoping. That is, the horse will run as usual, the dance will go on, and the one-country- two-systems will be upheld.”
[Shen Liangqing is a former prosecutor and dissident living in Hefei, Anhui.]
I have written more than 4,000 commentaries of current affairs over the past 15 years using my real identity. But now, to live on, I have to give up writing and thus bid goodbye to hundreds of thousands of readers in China and beyond. I don’t know when I will be writing the most timely and accurate commentaries again. I hope it won’t be too long, won’t be too long; I hope the night will pass soon.
@419041838: “They deleted all my tweets. Several thousands of them. While deleting, they also videotaped the process. They had talked to me twice about it, and almost took me to jail.”
@419041838: Deleting all was not enough; they took it to the municipal government for their superiors to check in person.
@oubiaofeng: When? What were the reasons they gave?
@419041838: You guys still don’t get it: using Twitter is very dangerous, more dangerous than street demonstrations.
@419041838: Not me; they did the deletion. They took it away for a night. A few days ago. Several people came from higher level government.
Sun Desheng (孙德胜 @sds8964 )’s tweets were all deleted. The Party-state have never relaxed control of online expression, but recently it has become even more pronounced. Weibo was once a bustling platform but it’s no more. Deletion of post or account has become a commonplace on WeChat. Lately a lot of tweeps have been summoned by police. Some announced quitting Twitter, others were forced to delete their tweets, and still others went silent. There are more than a few who have been detained for tweeting!
[Sun Desheng is an activist who was jailed for 2.5 years from 2013 to 2016.]
According to the latest news, Xiamen tweep Pan Xidian (潘细佃 @congweiyonghu) has been given 15 days of detention for refusing to delete his account. He’s in Houxi Detention Center, and his account has been deleted.
Around noon, I drank four liang (两) liquor. In the evening I drank again. When I got to six liang (两), I heard knocking on the door. It was cold, so I opened it promptly. What should come would come – three police officers from Shuangjing police station, Beijing Chaoyang District, came for a talk. Officer Gao alone asked questions; another videotaped the entire visit, and the third one stood aside. I said I hadn’t attacked the Party and state leaders since March last year, nor had I defaced the image of the country. I forgot to say that I hadn’t even registered a Twitter account March last year. They didn’t beat me, nor threaten me. I was much relieved. After they left, I finished drinking the remained two liang (两). Now I can sleep in peace. [Edited for clarity. Links are here and here]
That was a fright. Next time I will remember to video record them and also ask to see and photograph their police ID and search warrant. (What about governing the country according to the law that you have been touting?)
[He Jiangbing is a Beijing-based economist who came to Twitter in July 2017 and has been commenting on the Chinese economy since then.]
The storm has come indeed. I was asked to delete a total 802 tweets.
[Ye Du told Deutsche Welle that, “Guobao showed me a form with 802 tweets of his that have been put together by internet police. They were categorized into ‘promoting western democracy,’ ‘concerning June 4th,’ ‘inciting social movement,’ and etc. Very detailed. They demanded that I delete these tweets. Ye Du said that he was not the only person who was asked to delete tweets.]
Ms. Wu Huaiyun from Huoshan County, Anhui Province was given 10 days of administrative detention on Nov. 1. The Public Security Bureau’s written decision on the punishment said, “Since May 2018, Wu Huaiyun used her mobile phone and computer to publish statements defaming our Party and major national leaders on the overseas social platform ‘Twitter’ via her account, @xybaiyun2018. The remarks are serious.” The following is Wu Haiyun’s own account of the event, which she published on Twitter after her release.
On October 31, 2018, the Ministry of Public Security and the Anhui Provincial Public Security Department issued an order, and twenty or thirty domestic security police officers (guobao) from Liu’an city came to my home and duped me into handing over my mobile phone. Then several of them forcibly put handcuffs on me and took me away; they also beat me in the police car. Then I was taken to the Liu’an detention facility, where I was detained for 10 days. The police also searched my home, took my computer’s hard drive, pried open my suitcase, and even the mattress on the bed was turned upside down. I hereby request help from international human rights organizations and caring people!
They also found the password for my Twitter account on my computer hard drive, and deleted all the content from my Twitter. After I was detained, they only notified my family by phone, no written notice of detention was given. My family members asked the police for the detention notice, but they refused to provide it. I obtained this written punishment decision by insistence. If they’re reasonable and lawful, then why were they unwilling to give a written detention notice and written punishment decision? And detain me without trial? I never mentioned the names of national leaders on Twitter, how could I have defamed anyone? If I disappear again, it’s them–– it’s what they do.
I said that my Twitter content was basically all retweets, and that I just had a few original tweets, which did not involve the content they claimed. They said that reposting is also illegal, especially when retweeting Guo Wengui’s posts–– that was even more unlawful. I asked them, doesn’t the law stipulate that false information must be retweeted at least 500 times before the security punishment regulations apply? Not one of my retweets reached the “500 times” threshold. They actually said that mine were different.
During the interrogations, they assumed I used Twitter on my computer. The written punishment decision also stated that I used Twitter on my computer. When I said that I used Twitter on my mobile phone only, and not on the computer (my computer could not scale the Great Firewall), they all seemed a little surprised! This shows that they found me (on Twitter) by monitoring my mobile phone; the whole thing was a fucking trick!
A few days ago, I received a threatening text message from someone claiming to be the police, demanding that I delete my Twitter account.
The day before yesterday [on Nov. 17], both Chairman Hua @wxhch64 and I were summoned for a “chat” by authorities in Wuxi and Henan for our use of Twitter. I think this big Twitter cleanup is nationwide, not specifically targeting us, so I didn’t say anything. [“Chairman Hua” is Wang Yi’s husband.]
Recently, there’s less and less information on Twitter, mainland Twitter users have either left Twitter, or they’ve been silenced. I was also required to delete more than 500 tweets, and now I dare not post any new tweets. We don’t know the scale, and at every turn the police want to meet; we still have to work, no?
A few days ago, the domestic security and Internet police came and asked me to delete the relevant posts from Twitter, saying that I couldn’t target national leaders. They were really proactive about this; the Internet police held a screenshot and had me delete tweets from the designated date.
Recently I caused a lot of trouble for my friends and family because of my use of Twitter; therefore, I probably will not be on Twitter again for a long time. To my friends who have consistently shown me their concern and care, here I can only offer my apologies. Goodbye, friends.
Lately a number of tweeps have been visited by police who demanded them to delete tweets or not post or retweet anymore. In Hunan, I know there are tweeps in Zhuzhou, Changsha, Shaoyang and other cities who have been summoned by police. Most of them kept quiet afterwards.
I thought only Big Vs were qualified to be summoned for interrogation, but finally it was my turn. I thought this would just be a little intimidation before [Guo Wengui] ‘s press conference and that would be all, because last night the police summoned me but then I was able to return home after only one hour, which didn’t interfere in my watching the live broadcast of Guo’s live broadcast. However, I just now received a phone call from a police officer in the district, who said that the higher ups were not satisfied with our discussion yesterday and that the bureau would send people to have another talk with me. They were somewhat polite, and we agreed to meet at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. It won’t interfere with drinking, so it’s OK.
[Later, reply to self] Just came back, it was nothing. It had nothing to do with Mr. Guo. It involved political commentary. The domestic security officers’ attitude was good. During the interrogation, there was a moment when we clashed, but we circled back. They had a stack of printed and bound tweets, and the evidence was undeniable. I wrote a letter of guarantee that I would delete sensitive posts on my own. Done. It’s time to feed the stray cats…
The domestic security police stopped by today, mainly because of what I said on Twitter. What is certain is that Twitter is no longer a place where you can freely express your thoughts. I don’t know what other communication tools are available abroad to replace Twitter? Which are more private and safer? It has been several years since [human rights lawyer] Pu Zhiqiang was convicted for his Tweets. Twitter has never been a safe harbor for speech, and we are now in an era of total repression.
[Tweep @asn_213 gave a friend the following account in DM, and the later published it.]
I’m back. Yesterday it was the Guobao who summoned me via neighborhood police. They printed all the stuff from 5-6 years ago regarding the same-city meal gatherings [part of the New Citizens Movement], and they also printed all of my tweets and retweets. They said these were evidence of my criminal activities. At 10 pm, their political officer interrogated me again, giving me a notice for 15-day administrative detention. It describes me as defaming the national leaders and attacking the current political system on Twitter. They asked me to sign it. I wrote my dissent on it: I have never used my Twitter handle to defame anyone; expressing views on events and people is a citizen’s most basic freedom of speech, and it’s ridiculous that this is even happening in the 21st century. Then I signed it. …… He talked a lot more, finally he tried to use my daughter as a leverage. He said, “Look, at our age, who is going to do what we like to do that make our own daughters suffer. Now I’m going to give you a way out. As long as you stop tweeting or retweeting and delete your Twitter account, we will withdraw this penalty.” I said okay. So he let me go home. I might not be able to keep this account anymore.
I just found out that the Twitter account of 陈年老酒 @old_wine has been deleted. He was taken away by police on November 7, and it probably had to do with Twitter. I don’t know how many more tweeps have simply disappeared without a peep. We don’t even notice when @old_wine, a sage on Twitter, took leave.
This month I have been coerced to delete about 1,250 tweets. The darkest moment has come before the dawn breaks. No need to say more.
In Shandong, Jinan, Hui poet An Ran (安然) was taken to Dongguan police station by five policemen (two of which were Guobao) on November 27, 2018. He was interrogated for his Twitter expressions. He was ordered to delete his Twitter account, but he refused to do so, stating that his Twitter feed is personal property and it is sacred. (Read his tweets here and here.)
He also posted Page 2 of the three pages of interrogation transcript that concerns the part about his Twitter:
Q: How do you get on Twitter?
A: It’s my privacy; I don’t want to reveal.
Q: Do you often post on Twitter?
A: Almost everyday.
Q: What do you post there?
A: A lot of different things – my own takes on current affairs, photo and video sharing, and etc.
Q: Have you posted lately on Twitter?
A: There are a lot. I can’t remember each one of them.
Q: In what language have you been posting/
Q: You posted that “Religion and traditional culture have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), then the morality disintegrated. Now the Chinese Communist Party began to strike down on religion again.” You also posted that “China’s suppression of Hui Muslims is worsening.” Correct?
A: I posted these this year (can’t remember the exact time) in English.
Q: Why were you posting these?
A: I saw in the news that a new Mosque in Weizhou Township, Tongxin County, Ningxia was ordered to be demolished. It was a grand Mosque built by local believers who had raised 100 million yuan. The government ordered its demolition because it said the dome did not meet the Sinicization requirement. The Mosque was saved only because local people protested in large scale.
Q: What’s the purpose and motivation of posting these two tweets?
A: I wanted to stop the local government from demolish the Mosque, because it was built with believers’ contributions, and it’s such a new, magnificent Mosque…..
Today my parents in Xinjiang called, and fearfully they asked me to shut up in the U. S. “If you talk anymore,” they said, “the higher-ups will make sure that you will never be able to speak to your parents again.” CCP bastards, come to get me, leave my parents alone! Stop threatening my family! I hate to shut up, but they have turned my loved ones into hostages. For their safety, I decide not to get publicly involved in politics anymore for the time being.
The Shenzhen-based dissident and businessman 陈年老酒 @old_wine, whose name is Xu Lequn (许乐群), posted an account of his encournter with police on another platform on December 1:
At 10 am, Nov. 7, I was taken from home by policemen in Shenzhen to a police station where they photographed me, took my finger prints, and tested my urine. From 3-4 pm, they interrogated me about my expressions about Xinjiang on Twitter, and they demanded that I delete my Twitter account. I was released at 10 am, Nov. 8, after sitting on a metal bench for the night.
At 5 pm, Nov. 10, I was again taken from home to the police station. At 6:30 pm I was interrogated. They chastised me for still using Twitter the past few days. I again was made to sit on the metal bench for a night. At 9:30 am, they released me saying they’d gotten the wrong person.
On Nov. 26, they called and said their surveillance found that my Twitter account was still alive, that my name is still on the list they’d received from the higher-ups, and that I must get rid of my account immediately. I didn’t know how to delete my account; so I deactivated it.
[Note: His account appears to be active though there have been no new tweets since Nov. 7.]
This morning I was summoned to the neighborhood police station. I was asked to delete two retweets, one of which is about Guo Wengui. I refused to write a repentance statement.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao and China Change @ChinaChange_org
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
Deletion of Wu Gan’s Twitter Posts Reflects the Urgent Need to Protect Chinese Human Rights Activists’ ‘Data Ownership’
Yaxue Cao, November 11, 2018
Around 10:10 pm eastern time on Nov. 8, as I was browsing my Twitter timeline and taking a breaking from editing a website post, a tweet by Wu Gan (吴淦) jumped into my vision. Even though he has gone for three years and a half, his avatar immediately stood out. It’s an auto-generated tweet that reads: “I just activated @Tweet_Delete on my account to automatically delete my old tweets (is.gd/delete)!” Instinctively, I pressed the “prt src” key:
It was 11 am on Nov. 9, Beijing Time. Wu Gan, better known as the “Super Vulgar Butcher,” is serving an eight-year sentence in a prison somewhere in the mountains on the border of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. He was detained on May 20, 2015, outside the Jiangxi High People’s Court where he had been protesting the court’s denial of lawyers’ access to case files in the “Leping Wrongful Conviction Case.” In December 2017 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion of state power” following secret detention, torture, and his refusal to admit guilt in exchange for lenient punishment.
I clicked his account. It was emptied out – all 30,277 tweets from Nov. 2009 to May 2015 were gone. The tweet announcing the deletion soon disappeared as well. The circumstances of the deletion are shocking to many Chinese Twitter users because of the scale of the loss.
Wu Gan’s Twitter feed is not just anybody’s feed. In late 2008 he began to actively surf Internet and frequent a vibrant forum called “Cat Eye Forum” (猫眼论坛) at www.tianya.cn, one of China’s earliest Internet portals. He wrote: “I learned of the earthquakes, the shoddy school buildings [that killed thousands of students]; I learned Ai Weiwei’s investigation into the school deaths. I was rather stirred. I began to write articles, and in 2009, I became an activist.”
In a remote town in western Hubei in May 2009, three township officials asked 21-year-old hotel waitress Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) for “special services” and attempted to force themselves on her. Yujiao defended herself using a fruit knife, stabbing one of her would-be rapists to death and wounding another. She turned herself in to the local public security authorities, and was charged with intentional homicide.
The incident found instant resonance with netizens around the country. Compared to today, that time was still something of a “golden age” for online free speech, as the Great Fire Wall was not as fully developed as it is today and the Chinese government had yet to introduce a mechanism of effectively and thoroughly curbing public opinion on the internet.
The way the authorities handled Deng Yujiao’s case stirred outcry among masses of ordinary Chinese. They did not want to see a young girl be imprisoned as a murderess and possibly receive the death sentence for standing her ground against abusive officials. But help could only come from the people and the forces of public opinion.
Wu Gan, a 37-year-old Fujianese businessman who had served in the southern border troops, called upon fellow frequenters of the Cat Eye Forum to “take action to help this young lady who had defended her dignity with a fruit knife.”
A few days later, Wu Gan went to Hubei, spoke with Deng Yujiao’s family, and managed to meet Yujiao in hospital. A photo of the two together went viral. He persuaded the Deng family to engage lawyers for Yujiao, and made arrangements with two lawyers in Beijing. A month later, the local court held a public hearing for Deng Yujiao’s case and handed down a verdict exempting her from punishment.
The Deng Yujiao incident was seen as an encouraging example of how public opinion could lead to justice; at the same time, it became the starting point for Wu Gan to enter the public sphere and conduct online and offline activism. Next, Wu Gan got involved in the case of Shenyang street vendor Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰), who had killed two chengguan (城管) officers (note: chengguan are Chinese urban enforcers infamous for using violence and intimidation) in self-defense. Wu Gan travelled to Shenyang to help Xia’s wife and son get legal help, and rallied public opinion on social media and at the same time recorded his activities and reflections.
Sadly, Wu Gan and thousands of concerned netizens were unsuccessful this time. Xia Junfeng was sentenced to death and executed in 2013. Over the next six years, Wu Gan helped with hundreds of rights defense cases across China by mobilizing public opinion online and working directly with victims on the ground. Most of the people he helped were the socially disadvantaged, such as Deng Yujiao and Xia Junfeng, who had suffered humiliation and deprivation at the hands of the powers-that-be.
Wu Gan’s activism, which he styled “butchering pigs,” aimed to pressure local officials using public opinion, the law, and his unique performance art to pursue social justice in places where the rule of law did not exist. In order to popularize his experiences, Wu Gan, who lacked university education, wrote three handbooks: “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》), “Guide to Drinking Tea” (《喝茶宝典》), and the “Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes” (《访民杀猪宝典》). In these pamphlets, Wu taught fellow activists how to protect their rights by resisting the government and dealing with police interrogation and intimidation.
In China’s rights struggle over the last decade, Wu Gan occupies a unique position of seminal importance. He was the first detainee during the 709 crackdown; his steadfast resolve to expose torture and refusal to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence is awe-inspiring.
In an editorial, the Washington Post quoted Wu Gan’s statement to the court: “For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights.”
Social media revolutionized Chinese citizen resistance, and Wu Gan was one of the most creative user of it. Not surprisingly, he quickly found himself in the crosshairs of the Chinese government’s censorship organ and was barred from domestic platforms like Weibo, so Twitter became a safe haven for him and other human rights activists. There, they didn’t have to worry about their accounts being deleted, and they expressed their thoughts freely and left a record of their activities and thoughts – Twitter was their open diary.
Wu Gan’s Twitter account was such a diary.
At the beginning of this year, when I was doing research for an article, I was able to download his tweets from May 19, 2015, going back to the same date in 2014, reaching apparently the limit Twitter set for retrieving archives.
Take May and June, 2014, as an example: in May, Wu Gan and lawyer Li Heping (李和平) were in the county of Mayang in Huaihua, Hunan Province (湖南怀化麻阳县), where they were assisting a family that had been expropriated of their land, had their house demolished, and relatives in detention. In June, Wu Gan organized a few dozen people to observe the trial of a political prisoner in Hunan, as well as paying attention to the sentencing of Jiangxi’s Liu Ping (刘萍) and the detention of three civil disobedience activists in Guangzhou. That month, Wu Gan also went to Jingdezhen (景德镇) and met with a group of lawyers to work on overturning the the death sentence against four peasants who had been wrongfully convicted of murder. There, he talked to the relatives of the accused about how to use and weaponize the internet. At the same time, he had followed the development of practically all political cases, including those of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and Gao Yu (高瑜). Wu Gan also released information about donations he had received for completed activities, as well as his experiences, for instance in the Jiansanjiang case [involving rights lawyers beaten up for defending Falun Gong practitioners].
Wu Gan had some rather big ideas: he hoped that Chinese democracy activists overseas could set up a mock voting system for Chinese citizens to elect a Chinese president, as well as judges, legislators, and local officials.
As for current events, his views were often direct and insightful. He said, “If Taiwan still cannot take a hint from today’s situation in Hong Kong and continues to flirt with the Communist Party thinking that trade will lead to a good and risk-free future and think the wolf’s milk they’re drinking is free, one day the Chicoms are going to take back everything when they have an epileptic attack. No good can come of making a deal with the devil.”
In June that year he also said he was occupied with his marriage, fixing up his house, and family matters in his hometown. He said he had to deal with his family life and that [his work on] justice would have to take a back seat for the time being. But afterward, it seems that he had forgotten about this statement.
One of my favorite Wu Gan tweets is: “Some people fancy that after Xi Jinping finishes the anti-corruption campaign and consolidates power, he will return back to the right path. How many times were these people kicked in the head by donkeys to come up with this kind of idea?”
As you can see, due to his extensive contacts with various groups and his involvement in many incidents, his Twitter served as a veritable history of China’s human rights struggle between 2009 to 2015. Today, while he finds himself behind bars, cut off from any means of communication with the outside world, his tens of thousands of tweets have been deleted with just a single click.
This goes beyond Wu Gan’s personal loss; it is a huge setback for researchers and anyone who cares about the struggles of contemporary Chinese society.
What happened to Wu Gan’s tweets isn’t unique. In 2016, Sichuan human rights activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) not only had his Twitter posts deleted, but his entire account was closed and erased without any trace. There may well be more political prisoners who have been liquidated from online existence — it embarrasses me to admit that I have not paid the matter enough attention thus far.
The internet age has made information easier to produce and more convenient to circulate. However, It has also made it convenient for a highly sophisticated dictatorship, like the one in China, to wipe out the memories and records of people and even entire communities in an instant. They have been doing this all along, but in the last two or three years, the censorship has reached unprecedented heights in its scale and intensity.
For the Chinese government, it’s not enough to delete domestic social media content. They have been trying to extend their control to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — all of which are banned in China.
Like me, a scholar who studies the Chinese resistance movement was shocked and concerned about the erasure of Wu Gan’s Twitter record. She proposed the concept of “data ownership.” Chinese netizens are not only deprived of data ownership inside the Great Fire Wall; political prisoners and currently active Twitter users face threats to their data security as well.
The researcher urged me and my fellow human rights advocators to study methods of protecting Chinese netizens’ “data ownership” in foreign social media. The data security of those political prisoners who are in prison, or “sensitive people” who are not in prison but are strictly monitored and threatened by the government, is particularly urgent. Seeing the deletion of Twitter content belonging to Wu Gan and Chen Yunfei and the recent round of censorship targeting Chinese Twitter users (I will report on this in a separate article), we sense that the Chinese government will stop at no means to delete more content that they disagree with.
Large companies like Twitter should be held responsible for protecting the data security of political dissidents in authoritarian states. The researcher suggested that human rights organizations should negotiate with Twitter to develop a third-party mechanism to protect the social account data for Chinese political prisoners based on CECC’s relatively complete and constantly updated database (http://ppdcecc.gov/) of Chinese incarcerated for their dissident activities. This system could provide regular backups and prevent the prisoners’ account from being modified.
Right now, what is most urgent is that Twitter needs to know the shocking attacks on free speech that are quietly taking place. We ask Twitter to restore Wu Gan’s Twitter content and Chen Yunfei’s account from its backup database.
Ms. Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), another noted human rights activist and a close friend of Wu Gan, tweeted, “Can someone go talk with Twitter about this? We’re not in jail, and wouldn’t it be a shame if we couldn’t even protect the Twitter account of a prisoner of conscience?”
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
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
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.