Translation: Clubhouse Blocked in China; Anticipation and Reactions

Over the past several days, Chinese internet users rushed to join Clubhouse, an invite-only audio-based social networking app. For a fleeting few days, users on the platform from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and farther afield used the app to engage in uncensored cross-border dialogue, and set up “rooms” to discuss taboo, intimate, and political sensitive issues ranging from the Tiananmen Massacre to gender identity, Taiwan independence, the Hong Kong protests, the concentration camps in Xinjiang, and more. Some users set up a silent room to commemorate Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who died one year ago Sunday.

Observers remarked that it was only a matter of before the app would be banned in China. By Monday evening, reports by Chinese users confirmed this was the case. The term “Clubhouse” was also blocked on Weibo. Chinese state tabloid Global Times said that mainland Chinese users found discussions “one-sided” and that pro-China voices “can be easily suppressed.” New York Times tech reporter Paul Mozur commented that even by the standards of China’s network censors, the block came swifter than expected. Several Chinese developers are already rushing to create homegrown clones or alternatives to the app, though they can be expected to be more closely monitored and censored. One user, who moderated some of the discussions over the weekend, told the Washington Post: “It was only five days, but it’s like a hundred flowers bloomed.”

has translated a selection of Chinese internet users’ reactions to discussions on Clubhouse and the ban. The following exchanges, from , showed earlier responses to the ongoing discussions, some enthusiastic, and some skeptical:

@雅鸡仔儿饼: I spent almost 2 hours listening to #两岸青年大乱聊#, the host said they were hoping to get perhaps a few dozens of people to talk about their daily lives, but it turned into a mega room with more than 4000 participants. More than 150 people were in line to speak at 2:30 in the morning.

[…] No one was aggressive when speaking. And no one was correcting other people’s preferred phrases for the sake of being “politically correct.” When many people from Taiwan used “China” rather than “Mainland” or “Inland,” no one raised objection. That’s because the audience in this realm can understand that people have different thoughts and habits due to differences in history, culture and education.

[…] Thousands have participated in tonight’s discussion. How many will they go on to influence? This is going to have a huge impact.

[…] I don’t know how long this environment can last, or whether it will reappear. But I will definitely remember this epic moment on the internet.

@稻浆: It was obviously a gathering spot for yellow-ribbon zombies [Hong Kong activists], Taiwan secessionists, and China haters. You made it sound like some sort of utopia. Eww.

@949A奥斯卡: Bullshit. It sounded nice because those who disagree were muted. It was just a bunch of China Haters licking each other. Of course it sounded nice.

@走啊走呢喃: OP, you should know the environment for public discussion in China by reading these comments. It’s possible to talk to them. We are the world-leading factory of keyboard warriors!

@OrwellianNonsense: I’ve seen so many times on different platforms how young people of Mainland and Taiwan refused to listen to the other side. They stayed in their own information bubble to criticize and even insult each other. Today I spent two hours in the [Clubhouse] room. I think most participants were very rational and tolerant in their discussions. I felt touched. I’ve always thought that political differences shall never be placed above personal interactions.

@潘萌SoPhia: The fun thing about Clubhouse is that everything is fluid. You get a completely different room when you enter at a different time. I was in the 两岸三地聊天群 three times. The first time, I heard a soft-spoken Taiwanese young man telling a heartfelt story about his visit to Beijing. The second time, though, I heard some dumbass say that every place has censorship; Taiwan’s censorship is worse than ours; censorship is not necessarily bad. So, it’s up to your luck.

@兔主席: I listened to some convos on Clubhouse. Most Mainland folks will not use this app. This fact coupled with an explosive growth of overseas “fancy Chinese” will ensure that discussion on Clubhouse will become increasingly one-sided. For Chinese language information circle, [Clubhouse] will probably become another -establishment, anti-China public opinion battlefront.

@王玦Joel: I’m laughing so hard at this. So you block it (which has not yet happened but for sure will happen) and then call it an anti-China battlefront. Do you actually expect people to speak in your favor and be your allies when there are literally no Mainlanders there? [Chinese]

Two longer accounts on Facebook described the discussions of ongoing mass detention in Xinjiang:

@c’c:The deepest discussions happened between four and eight in the morning. In the beginning, I wasn’t able to fall asleep. Later, I dared not sleep. At some point, Xinjiang people living overseas were crying because they didn’t know where their family was. Then some Han people were crying because it was their first time hearing all this and they were struck by guilt. And a participant who still lives in Xinjiang begged others not to release her information: “I am really scared… really, really scared ….” I can say no more.

Occasionally, there were people who said: “I read news on both sides and I want to say something neutral.” They’d usually continue by saying: “Helping them get jobs is the only way to prevent separatism.” “July 5th was much scarier than reported.” “Uyghurs have high birth rates. Han should catch up.” “Are you guys begging to be blocked?” “Do you have any evidence?” They were met with angry responses from other participants. Around 7pm, a guy yelled: “Are you still human beings? I’m Han and I’m getting PTSD after listening to all this for a few hours. Do you not have any empathy?”

A young woman who studied said that many Uyghur friends lived on the first and second floor of her dorm building. When the July 5th Incident happened, many Uyghur came up to her floor to call their family. They were crying in the corner with the phone receiver in hand. She said she felt scared tonight hearing people speak. She was reminded of how, back in 2013, a friend of hers was drawing up a design for some development projects in Xinjiang; and a friend’s boyfriend who was in the military was getting deployed to Xinjiang. She suddenly thought if those blueprints were turned into jailhouses for her classmates on the first and second floor …. She wept.

Towards the end, the room felt like a church. People were weeping while encouraging each other to stay hopeful, despite the grim future in sight. Those eavesdroppers were there already, and this small window could be shut down at any point. But before then, this was how the night went. [Chinese]

@WJL: There were also overseas Uyghur activists and Australian journalists, who helped enrich this event. When Uyghurs told the overseas activists: “Your efforts really helped us,” those activists knew that the punches they threw against the high wall were worthwhile after all, which was inspiring. An Australian journalist shared their verification methods to prove that their reporting was rigorous and should not be dismissed simply by the label of “fake news.”

[…] Because this was a voice-based platform, people with different opinions could “effectively” drop their prejudice and stand in the other’s shoes.

[…] It’s so powerful. It will probably get banned by Chinese government pretty quickly. [Chinese]

The following comments, from Twitter, came when the ban duly arrived:

@zmt021: GFW workers rushed to block ch [Clubhouse] before the Spring Festival so they don’t have to ruin their holiday and work overtime while watching the [CCTV] Spring Festival Gala.

@imojbk: Historic moment: I was in a room called “Will this world get better?” when Clubhouse was blocked.

@Euronardo: In a room called “I noticed that Clubhouse was blocked,” I heard people say: “I very much agree with the host that now we have 900 million internet users in China, it must be regulated.” “I think this is just because there were some sensitive conversations and the country had to take actions. We should just lay low and let the bullet fly.” These so-called “Chinese elites” are so freaking spineless.

@Kitano17Yuki19: Getting banned is inevitable. Having discussion as much as we can before it gets banned is already a contribution. [Chinese]

More reactions to the ban from Twitter:

Translation by Yakexi.

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