Translation: “Program-Think,” Notorious Anonymous Chinese Blogger, Feared Detained

An anonymous Chinese tech and politics blogger known as program-think (编程随想) has reportedly been detained in China after evading identification and arrest for more than 12 years. program-think, whose Blogspot posts included how-tos on evading China’s Great Firewall and frequent political commentary, attracted a sizeable following on social media. While achieving notoriety in China after publishing a project on Github exposing the connections and hidden wealth of high-ranking members of the CCP, they were also praised by supporters for sharing particularly thoughtful analysis and opinion on a wide range of political issues. He built an almost legendary status through his commitment to remaining within China, a defiantly “catch me if you can” attitude toward authorities mockingly referred to as “the Imperial Court,” and the sheer length of time for which he managed to protect their identity. program-think’s writing was often peppered with references to “V for Vendetta,” with whose masked protagonist he was sometimes compared.

The gap since program-think’s last online activity has now stretched well beyond the 14 day period they previously described as “ordinary inactivity.” On Wednesday, CDT Chinese reported that program-think’s Chinese name had become a blocked word on some Chinese social media. Supporters have expressed fear that the blogger’s long-treasured anonymity may now backfire, giving the authorities cover for abuses in detention. Radio Free Asia reported on program-think’s apparent detention:

A person familiar with the matter who gave only his surname, Xu, told RFA that the anonymous blogger was now in police custody.

[…] Xu said Program-Think was likely detained for exposing the hidden wealth of high-ranking members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and his political theorizing and anti-brainwashing campaigns, conducted via his blog on the overseas-based platform.

[…] Program-Think was nominated for best Chinese blog in the 2013 Deutsche Welle International Best of Blogs awards, or BOBs.

The author told the station at the time that he had never set out to write political content to begin with, but just wanted to share his years of experience in programming.

But the blog gradually become popular with people wanting ways to get around government censorship, and later branched out into information security tips and political analysis, the station reported at the time of the blog’s nomination. [Source]

Over the years, CDT Chinese has republished several of program-think’s blog posts. The range of topics covered is broad, from domestic political commentary, to in-depth technical posts on how to hide one’s digital tracks, and even an in-depth discussion of the U.S. electoral system in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016. Below are a selection of excerpts from program-think’s writing:

Warmly congratulate the “Princeling Party Network” open source project for being the first to be recognized by the Imperial Court

June 30, 2016


This year (2016), on the eve of the “Two Sessions,” I opened my own “Princeling Network Map” on Github–consider it a gift to the Two Sessions.

The content of this project is very rich–including more than 700 influential officials, more than 130 influential families–and is the result of many years of organization; it was not easy.

After the project was published, it won a lot of support from netizens (nearly 2000 stars, nearly 600 forks). Obviously, this project makes the “Imperial Court” uncomfortable. But because Github is simply too important (the world’s largest open source project distribution platform), the Imperial Court dares not block Github, and Github uses the “encrypted” HTTPS protocol, meaning the [Great Firewall] cannot selectively implement blocks.

But among the cabal of Imperial Court officials, not everyone is a lazy idler. The Imperial Court used a new quasi-official organization (the Cyber Security Association of China) to send a “delete order” to Github’s network administrator (see this link). At present, Github network administrators’ action has been to cut access to the project (selective blocking). In other words: when you visit the project from within the wall, you’ll see a message in a foreign language saying the project is temporarily unavailable; but if you scale the wall and access the project, you can view and download as usual.

The government’s delete order for this project is the sixth in Github’s history, and the first from the Chinese government. (The previous five delete orders were from the Russian government, see the official link on Github for details).

[…] Why is this worth celebrating?

Reason No. 1

First of all, the project hit the Imperial Court’s G-spot : )

This project has gained relatively large influence (see the three indicators of star, fork, and watch). And the day the project went live, thanks to widespread user interest, the project made it to Github’s trending repositories.

For the above reasons, there must have been considerable restlessness within the Imperial Court : )

In recent years, I’ve often seen such sentences on the internet as “the keyboard party isn’t worth shit.” When I released the “Princeling Network Map” a few months ago, I myself said “exposing powerful families does jack shit.”

Today, I have to ask: if it really isn’t worth shit, is it a good use of the Court’s time to try and block this project? In its response, the Imperial Court proves the project is very useful : )

Reason No. 2

This incident also suggests that the measures used to hide my identity are reliable.

The special police no doubt want to arrest me, but have not succeeded, so they had to use this “takedown request.” This method of deletion opens room for ridicule.

If the special police could work out my identity, it would be like what happened to the author of Shadowsocks, at least–invitation for tea, and then forced deletion of the project by its author.

The last reason to celebrate is this: the Streisand effect. This is when attempts to limit the public’s understanding of information/content only causes the information/content to be more widely known.

Since this project is the first such “takedown request” received by Github, the Imperial Court has triggered a wide range of reports (including domestic and foreign).

Blocking this project and blocking my name have only let more people know about it. The blocking has increased its influence, which is worth celebrating–the greater its influence, the more scandalized the involved parties : ) […] [Chinese]

The takedown request on program-think’s “Princeling Network Map” attracted significant international media coverage at the time.

Between 2015 and 2016, the phrase “Zhao Family” (赵家人) became a popular internet meme in China. The phrase is a reference to Lu Xun’s “The True Story of Ah Q,” and netizens came to use the character of Mr. Zhao to refer to China’s ruling elite in a derogatory way.

Discussing the Significance of “Zhao Family” Becoming Popular on the Internet

January 12, 2016

Recently the phrase “Zhao Family” has been very popular, and the Imperial Court has begun to block related vocabulary. The more they block, the more I talk.

The “Zhao Family” Phrase As an Anti-Brainwashing Strategy

Revealing “Patriotic Spin”

In our Celestial Empire, “patriotic” propaganda has become “spin,” and is wont to compare apples to oranges. For example, the promotion of the truth is always mixed with “patriotism” and “love for the government/Party.” In fact, “nation, government, and party” are three different concepts– see Political Literacy 101: Differentiating the Concepts of State, Political System, Citizen, Government, and Political Party.

There have also been some phrases popularized over the last year to ridicule official patriotism, including the well known “precious country,” “your country,” and Shina. But this vocabulary is not as deep as “Zhao country.” “Zhao country” hits the nail on the head: the Celestial Empire is exclusively dominated by the powerful.

Ridiculing the 50 Cent Party

In the past, when you came across the “volunteer fifty center” (fifty cent party members who are self-directed) on the internet, if you talked to the other party, you may waste your breath, but it wouldn’t change anything.

Nowadays, though, when you meet a “fifty center” again (whether it is a “volunteer fifty center” or “professional fifty center”), you can choke the other party with a simple sentence: “you are also surnamed Zhao.”

[…] The significance of the popularity of “Zhao Family

The Imperial Court loses its position on public opinion

To be frank, the speed with which this phrase became so popular exceeded my expectations. Many netizens use this term to express at least the following points:

1. A considerable proportion of the people have realized that the “powerful” and the “popular” are often opposed to one another, and that the powerful are the main enemy of the people;

2. After realizing this, a considerable proportion of the people are still willing (daring) to express this in public places (online);

3. The reasons are publicly stated, indicating that their dissatisfaction with the powerful has reached a certain level.

The Imperial Court quickly began to block this phrase, which also suggests: the widespread popularity of this word is very bad for them.

More than a year ago, I wrote an article: “Various Signs: the Mouthpiece of the Party and State is Gradually Losing its Hold on Public Opinion.” Now it seems that the Court is losing its hold of public opinion at a very fast rate.

The importance of public opinion to the regime

There is a simple truth, that I guess everyone should understand, which is: If you win the heart of the people you win the world, if you lose the heart of the people you lose the world.

Today is the age of the internet, and online public opinion is the embodiment of “popular sentiment.” When online public opinion becomes more and more unfavorable to the Imperial Court, it means that the Imperial Court’s foundation in public opinion is getting weaker and weaker; therefore, the Court’s foundation is getting worse and worse.

Although many netizens hate the CCP, they don’t believe that the CCP will collapse. In their view, the CCP controls the state machinery (military, police), and the people are defenseless. But you should understand: the grassroots members of the state apparatus are also the people. Some of the people’s hearts lost by the Imperial Court were originally members of the state apparatus. When the Imperial Court’s loss of popular support reaches a certain level, the state apparatus may not be able to function normally; what’s more, the state apparatus may strike back at a critical moment (you can recall the collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Romanian Communist Party).

In order to prevent some people from arguing, let me add:

I’m not saying that the CCP will collapse soon. What I mean is: the greater the number of hearts lost, the sooner the collapse. (I often encounter readers asking me “the exact time of the downfall”–I’m not a fortune teller, so I can’t answer this question.)

My top priority at the moment is to be a good “party-state grave digger”–doing my best to contribute to the burial of the party-state : ) […] [Chinese]

In 2019, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the blog, program-think published an exhaustive post documenting their experience evading China’s cyber police, alongside a guide for readers on how to obfuscate their identities online. Revisiting the post now in the context of program-think’s disappearance, these remarks are significant and chilling, including in their characterization of “ordinary inactivity” and confidence in their identity-obscuring measures.

Why the Authorities Can’t Catch Me–A Summary of My Security Experience After Ten Years of Anti-Party Activities

January 31, 2019

I haven’t been online for several days, and some readers have expressed concern that something might’ve happened to me. Not to worry! I was still replying to comments as of the 21st. As of the time of publishing of this blog post, within a 14-day window, my silence counts as “ordinary inactivity.”

[…] “The Imperial Court wants to catch me but cannot succeed,” which shows that my defensive measures are basically reliable.

Readers familiar with my blog know that I have been discrediting the party-state for many years (from the first political blog post to today, it has been more than 9.5 years, rounding to the nearest ten years [sic]).

I remember that many years ago, someone said something to me in the blog comment area (the following is the gist of it):

You, child, can show off on the internet because the cybersecurity police haven’t noticed you; when they turn their eyes to you, you can count your days.

At that time, many things hadn’t happened yet, and I lacked the material to refute [the commenter]. Now I can refute it confidently – the relevant departments of the Imperial Court have long been eyeing me; unfortunately, they can’t do anything about me.

If you want to see the evidence, please read the “Ten Years of Running My Blog” post from several days ago. I’ve excerpted some of the main points:

1. As early as the 2011 “Jasmine Revolution,” I published a number of blog posts on the nature of “incitement.” (Note: those articles obviously discuss the major crime of “inciting subversion of state power.”)

2. In 2016, the Imperial Court issued a government takedown request to Github in an attempt to delete the “Princeling Party Relationship Network” project that I maintained. (Note: Github has a spine, and the project is still standing today.)

3. Two state-backed attacks against my Gmail account (Note: in 2011 and 2017 respectively)

4. A large-scale “screen flooding” [spamming of the comments section] attack on the comment area of my blog in 2017. (Note: the Blogspot comment system has a CAPTCHA mechanism. To achieve the requisite rate for screen flooding, you need a lot of Fifty Centers all at the same time.)

The aforementioned signs have already proven that I am a thorn in the sides of the relevant departments of the Imperial Court.

Having expended so much breath, I want to emphasize one point–my defense measures are sound!

In other words, I dare not say that my defense measures are perfect (perfection is impossible), but at least there are no obvious loopholes. Otherwise (if there were obvious loopholes), I would either be pursued across provincial lines, or my account would be compromised. How could I “willfully discredit the Court and viciously attack the party and state leaders” over the last ten years? […] [Chinese]

As of the date of posting of this article, program-think’s blog has been inactive for 47 days. Read more about them on China Digital Space.


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