Farewell Letters: A Tribute to the Civil Society Groups, Bloggers, and Media Outlets We Lost in 2021

CDT Editor’s Note: As we enter 2022, CDT has compiled a special series of features for our readers, offering a look back at the people, events, controversies, memes and sensitive words that defined the past year. Some of this content is drawn from the CDT Chinese team’s year-end series, with additional content added by the CDT English team. We hope that CDT readers will enjoy this look back at the busy, complex and fascinating year that was 2021.

We started with the CDT editors’ picks for favorite CDT posts and writing on China in 2021, CDT English top ten most-read posts of 2021, and the Chinese internet’s top ten memes of 2021. In this feature, we look back at some of the civil society groups, bloggers, and media outlets that said goodbye in 2021.

2021 saw a continuation of the Chinese government’s years-long crackdown on NGOs, social advocacy organizations and other civil society groups, with groups dedicated to a range of issues—feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, workers’ rights, environmental protection, legal rights, science education, and more—being forced to close their social media accounts or disband. CDT has been tracking these closures and archiving farewell letters from various organizations, but many more organizations and accounts have disappeared without having the chance to say goodbye.

Below, we have translated and compiled some of these letters, and listed some of the achievements of the organizations behind them.

Popular Science Blogs

A number of popular science blogs disappeared after being targeted by online nationalist commentators for minor infractions, including expressing support for protests in Hong Kong, making unpopular historical comments, or posting content perceived as being anti-China.

In June, a contributor to the popular science blog “Science Squirrel Club” (科学松鼠会) was accused of whitewashing the wartime chemical and biological experiments of the Imperial Japanese Army’s notorious Unit 731. Another blogger gave a detailed account of this controversy in the article “The Science Squirrel Club Incident.”

Afterwards, the Science Squirrel Club issued an apology and announced that it would close its Weibo account and cease all activity. The Science Squirrel Club, founded in 2008, was a public interest group dedicated to spreading scientific knowledge, and had nearly four million followers before its Weibo microblog account was closed.

Statement of Apology

On May 31, Science Squirrel Club’s official Weibo account reposted an inappropriate remark that included serious errors, due to internal mismanagement and failure of the frontline operation staff to carefully fact-check and curate the content before posting.

Science Squirrel Club hereby issues a most sincere apology to the public for the inappropriate repost, our failure to effectively manage contributors’ remarks, and our negligence in properly educating our members. 

Science Squirrel Club strongly condemns the inappropriate remarks of that specific contributor. We have made the following decisions:

  • Permanently cancel the membership of the contributor (@Ent_evo).
  • Delete all past remarks made by this contributor on our platforms.
  • Delete all content from our official Weibo account and permanently cease any updates.

Science Squirrel Club is an internet club for science writers. We currently have more than 100 members from various universities, corporations, media outlets, and other institutions. We connect over shared interests. The connections between our organization and individual members, and those between the members themselves, are very weak. Members contribute popular science content free of charge without seeking compensation from Science Squirrel Club. Science Squirrel Club does not have the right to use or interfere with any social media posts by members acting in their individual capacities.

Members of Science Squirrel Club used to take turns managing our social media accounts. In recent years, however, because of other obligations of our members, we have hired social media professionals to maintain our official Weibo account. Upon reflection, we have now realized that there are serious loopholes in this model. Moreover, due to the interactive nature of Science Squirrel Club, it is impossible to effectively regulate and monitor what individual members share on Weibo. Our recent mistake has further exposed the seriousness of our managerial problems.

Science Squirrel Club, established in 2008, is committed to nurturing the scientific spirit and helping the public discern truth from rumors; these are the original intentions of our founding members. 

Over the past ten-plus years, Science Squirrel Club has always loved our motherland and resolutely supported the leadership of the Party. We have been committed to making science more accessible to the public and assisting with our country’s technological advances. We have always maintained our original role as a nonprofit organization.

This will be the last Weibo post from our official account, after which we will delete the account. We will learn our lessons, maintain our standards, and hold our ground. With a more rigorous approach, we will continue to produce science content that is correctly oriented and factually reliable. We hope that everyone will continue to monitor us and point out our mistakes.

We sincerely hope that the scientific spirit will spread far and wide, that science and technology will flourish, and that the future of our motherland will be prosperous and bright.

Science Squirrel Club [Chinese]

Also in June, PaperClip (回形针), a Beijing-based platform known for popular science videos, was caught up in a nationalistic backlash after a blogger accused two former PaperClip staffers of being “anti-China.” The site was eventually pressured into shutting down completely, and issued a groveling apology

A recent video uploaded by a user known as @赛雷话金 mentioned two PaperClip contributors. We hereby provide a detailed explanation of the incident: the two contributors involved have left our team. The person surnamed Nie joined PaperClip in July 2018, as a university student in China. Nie worked as a content intern before departing in July 2019. The person surnamed Ji joined PaperClip in May 2020, and worked as a content producer before departing in May 2021. Although these two members have already left the organization, it is a serious dereliction of duty on our part that they made remarks on their overseas personal social media accounts (both before and during their tenures at PaperClip) that trampled on the feelings of the nation and overstepped a moral baseline. And this is not the first time that we have made such a mistake. We must acknowledge that there are serious issues with our team at PaperClip. Therefore, we have decided to invite a senior expert from the mainstream press to be our editor-in-chief and serve as a content “gatekeeper.” The entire team will seriously engage in self-reflection. We will conduct professional media training for everyone at PaperClip, strengthening thought-education and management. Until the aforesaid reform and training is complete, we will cease posting any new content. When creating our videos, we have always sought to tell China’s stories well, and to showcase the country’s technological and research achievements, all of which must be premised on protecting the interests of the country and the dignity of its people. We hope that everyone will continue to monitor us. [Chinese]

Shortly after the statement was released, PaperClip was banned on all major platforms within China, including Bilibili, Zhihu, Weibo, and others.

Other science and culture bloggers who were banned during the same period include Elephant Magazine (大象公会) and its founder Huang Zhangjin (黄章晋).

Workers’ Rights Organizations

In August, Pepper Tribe (尖椒部落), a platform focused on the rights of female workers, issued a statement saying that it would permanently shut down its official website and all social media platforms and accounts:

Thank You All for Supporting Pepper Tribe

Although sudden goodbyes are something we have rehearsed many times in the past, this time it truly is farewell.

We at Pepper Tribe would like to express our sincerest thanks to every friend who has supported and inspired us, to every ally who has offered encouragement to fellow workers, and most especially to the passionate and enthusiastic sisterhood of working women we have met here. By harnessing your creativity to express your struggles, explorations, thoughts, and feelings about your individual lives and paths, you have rewarded us with inspiration, introspection, connection, and validation during this shared journey.

In the long course of time, seven years is too short, but it has been sufficient time for us to bear witness to our respective individual values and personal development. Though the world may disappoint, we will continue on our path, and continue to make history. We do not regret having to exit the stage, for we have come to the sober realization that, at this particular point in time, we have done all that we could. Although Pepper Tribe is no more, we believe that everyone will continue to nourish their creativity and live with dignity and courage, transforming many small, clear voices into a chorus of mutual support.

Effective today, Pepper Tribe, an informational platform dedicated to female workers, will cease updating content and permanently close all properties linked to its official account. Payment for manuscripts already published on the platform will be made as usual, and we will soon follow up with authors who have submitted unpublished manuscripts. Thank you for your understanding.

Farewell friends, lest we not meet again. May everyone stay safe and sound.

Pepper Tribe

August 9, 2021 [Source]

CDT has archived some of Pepper Tribe’s Chinese-language articles, which can also be viewed on Pepper Tribe’s account on the website Matters.

In September, the labor rights blog Masses (多数事务社) issued a farewell letter to its readers, and its WeChat public account was subsequently banned:

As summer ends and the autumn chill arrives, Masses must say goodbye to our readers. This hasty farewell is not what we had hoped for. It has been more than a year since Masses first raised its voice. Over the past year, societal issues and vigorous exchanges of ideas have brought us closer to workers, farmers, women, sexual and gender minorities, and others who have been harmed or mistreated, and society has become better informed about the situations they face.

We have discussed the “996 system” of long working hours and the gig economy, and have worked hard to spread awareness of each and every provision of the Labor Law; we have paid careful attention to the living conditions of female truck drivers, female delivery service drivers, and all female workers; and we are currently in the midst of research and investigation into food delivery-service platforms, and look forward to making policy recommendations for that industry.

Although our name borrows from the word “majority” (多数), it is not a form of self-aggrandizement, but rather, a humbling reminder of our deep concern and empathy for the masses of workers and the oppressed, and our eager hope for and pursuit of a better and fairer society. Through our writings and research, we have put into practice our vision for a different kind of society, the kind of society we hope to build.

Yet not all fine visions proceed smoothly, and there are bound to be obstacles along the way. Over the past year, countless left-wing platforms, feminist platforms, and labor-movement platforms have been strangled, but we will continue to cry out from this ever-darkening and oxygen-deprived “iron room” until the very end. And in this present age when moderate criticism and profound ideas are no longer tolerated, if the fire of ideas can no longer set the world ablaze, then we—along with our readers—are willing to brave the winds and tend to the embers that they may not die out. Because young people are still here, and because the masses remain. [Chinese]

Readers can visit Matters News to view past posts from Masses.

The logo for the now-defunct labor rights blog Masses (多数事务社)

 

A Brick-and-Mortar Bookstore

In addition to these social media accounts, one beloved brick-and-mortar bookstore has also bid us farewell. Wine Bookstore in Nanjing (换酒书店) was once known for its unique “books for beer/wine” business model, and was often featured in the media for its contributions to Nanjing’s local color. In April, following accusations by state media outlet Xinhua Daily that it might be contributing to the delinquency of minors, the bookstore was searched by government inspectors and the owner was given a warning. It closed its doors in May. Below is an excerpt from the bookstore’s farewell letter, archived by CDT:

Probably the most important lesson that life has taught me over the years is that life never goes according to plan. Wine Bookstore, which was scheduled to close on July 6, 2021, will now be closing its physical location at 81 Jianzi Alley on May 15.

[…] Not so long ago, Wine Bookstore was being profiled in the official media for its “books for beer/wine” model, and it was always high on the list of Nanjing’s unique bookstores when someone was promoting Nanjing as a literary capital. Now, overnight, it has suddenly become a place “contributing to the delinquency of minors.”

The inspectors had no choice, actually. Even I could sense their helplessness.

After much wheedling and coaxing, I managed to reschedule the inspection for the following Monday, when they would come to check if there were any signs that the bookstore was closing. The store needed to be emptied out at least a bit, because the final deadline to close was May 15.

As I physically demonstrated for them how difficult it is to run a small bookstore, I wanted to shout, “Why am I so unlucky? Does anything good ever happen in life?”

The inspectors told me to report to the Municipal Administration for Market Regulation [in charge of regulating local businesses]. Hating myself for being so obedient, I toddled right over, and was penalized when I got there. If I hadn’t gone, who knows … maybe I would have been able to keep putting them off and putting them off, delaying things eternally.

Things don’t always work out for the best, but I have chosen to accept it all.

If we cannot meet at the bookstore, though the road be long and the mountains high, may we someday meet again. [Chinese]

Feminist Blogs and Podcasts

This year, many feminist bloggers had their social media accounts deleted. In late March, longtime feminist and #MeToo activist Xiao Meili was targeted by cyberbullies after a video of her attempts to dissuade a man from smoking in a restaurant went viral. The controversy quickly engulfed other feminist bloggers. WeChat user @FDU put together a timeline of the events that culminated in a number of feminist accounts being banned by Douban:

The incident began on March 29, when feminist Xiao Meili was verbally attacked and splashed with an unknown liquid at a hot pot restaurant when she tried to discourage a patron at a nearby table from smoking. On March 30, after a failed attempt at mediation by the local police station, Xiao Meili posted a video of the incident on Weibo. Her post ignited public opinion and became the number-two trending topic on Weibo, garnering major media attention.

Xiao Meili soon became the target of online attacks and harassment, and her Sina Weibo account was subsequently banned. Her feminist identity was unearthed, as well as a photo of her, taken in 2014, that identified her as a “Hong Kong independence supporter.”

At the same time, a number of conservative bloggers […] encouraged netizens to report feminist accounts closely associated with Xiao Meili, which resulted in platform bans of a number of feminist accounts, among them feminist activist Zheng Churan, feminist columnist Hou Hongbin, a Chengdu-based gender equality group, an artist from Yichuan specializing in feminist themes, and others. […] Feminists and activists such as Wei Tingting, Li Maizi, Liang Xiaomen, Zhu Xixi, Mimiyana, Xiao Qiqi, and Xianzi, who expressed support and solidarity on Weibo, were besieged by cyber vigilantes.

On the night of April 12, about ten feminist-related groups were banned on Douban. The groups ranged in size from just a few hundred members to as many as 40,000 to 50,000 members. [Chinese]

In late April, a group of feminist artists created a series of banners printed with abusive sexist comments collected from social media, and displayed them on a barren hilltop in northern China as a protest against internet violence and gender-based online bullying. After the media outlet All Now (allnow.com) reported on the project, its WeChat account was closed.

In September, after Xianzi’s sexual harassment case against CCTV host Zhu Jun was dismissed by the court, many social media accounts that voiced support for Xianzi received bans or temporary suspensions. Xianzi’s personal Weibo account was also banned.

In December, the feminist podcast Seahorse Planet (海马星球) was banned by two mainland Chinese podcast platforms, and the creator issued a short statement

Sisters, Seahorse Planet has been banned. I will continue to upload content on overseas platforms. I’m sorry that I can’t continue to accompany you on the Chinternet. I’ll try to think of another way. [Chinese]

Seahorse Planet podcasts remain available on Apple, Anchor by Spotify, and other overseas platforms.

LGBTQ+ Groups

Over the past few years, there have been numerous internet exposés revealing how colleges and universities conduct intrusive surveys of LGBTQ+ students. So-called “patriotic influencers” have also targeted LGBTQ+ groups, accusing them of “corrupting youth” or being “infiltrated by foreign elements.” The space for LGBTQ+ student organizations is shrinking, and they face difficulties both online and offline. 

In April, Wuhan University’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality Research Society (武汉大学性别性向平等研究会) announced that it would cease all activities:

About the closure of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality Research Society:

Since it was established in 2015, WHU’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality Research Society, a grassroots society formed by Wuhan University students on their own initiative, has been focused on sexual-orientation and gender-related social equality.

Not long ago, a student-organized event intended to give voice to women became the target of malicious online comments that misconstrued both the purpose of the event and the nature of our organization. These were widely disseminated, resulting in an unexpectedly negative impact on the university, and on our group and its members. After careful reflection and consideration, our student members have decided to cease all activities and to stop posting content to our Weibo and other social media accounts, effective today.

We wish to thank everyone for their concern and support, and to offer our sincere apologies for this sudden and unexpected change of plans.

Although this marks our official goodbye as an organization, we as individuals will never cease paying attention to issues of sexual orientation and gender equality in our future lives and studies. Lastly, to all of you who are reading this on your screens, all of you who are concerned about issues of sexual orientation and gender equality: we wish you all the best in your lives and your future studies!

WHU Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality Research Society

April 20, 2021 [Chinese]

In early July, dozens of WeChat accounts run by LGBTQ+ student groups at Chinese universities were summarily blocked, with no explanation given. The accounts, some of which had operated for years without issue and amassed tens of thousands of followers, were transformed overnight into “unnamed official accounts” devoid of any content but the message: “All content has been censored for the account’s violation of internet official account information service management regulations.” Some Chinese netizens “unnamed” their own WeChat accounts as a gesture of support, and spread the message to others: “Tonight, we are all ‘unnamed official accounts.’” As Rebecca Davis reported at Variety, the list of deleted accounts included groups from some of China’s most prestigious universities:

Those now deleted include: Tsinghua University’s unofficial LGBTQ club Purple, Peking University’s unofficial LGBTQ club Colorsworld; Fudan University’s Zhiheshe; Wuhan University’s [Sexual Orientation] and Gender Equality Research [Society]; Nanjing University’s Same Sky Association for Gender Equality; Xi’an Academy of Fine Art’s Olive Tree Group; Renmin University of China’s Sex and Gender Research Society, and similar research-oriented groups at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and East China Normal University, among numerous others located across China. [Source]

In August, several incidents drew attention to the constricting space for LGBTQ+ groups and individuals in China. The nation’s longest-running LGBTQ+ publication Gay Spot (GS乐点) had its official WeChat account banned after publishing an article titled “Today’s Homophobic Incident: A Gay Youth Hostel in Wuhan is Driven Out of the Neighborhood.” (Gay Spot was later able to open a WeChat account under a slightly different name, and continues to publish on Weibo, where it has nearly half a million followers.) Social media star Feng Xiaoyi was blocked on Douyin (the mainland Chinese version of TikTok) after some users reportedly complained that his videos were too “effeminate” or “lacking in masculinity.” The hugely popular messaging platform QQ blocked various LGBTQ+ search terms, although it later backtracked a bit. Shanghai University, citing vague “relevant requirements,” asked its colleges to investigate their LGBTQ+ students, delving into their political views, social lives, and mental health status.

On November 4, the influential group LGBT Rights Advocacy China (中国同志平等权益促进会) announced that it was ceasing all activities and shutting down its social media accounts. Founded in 2013 by activists Peng Yanzi and AQiang, LGBT Rights Advocacy China had focused on improving the legal rights of LBGTQ+ individuals via lawsuits and other legal methods. Huizhong Wu of the Associated Press detailed some of the group’s work over the years:

LGBT Rights Advocacy China did work across the country, pushing for the rights of gay people and raising awareness about the community. It advocated for same-sex marriage and fought workplace discrimination by helping individuals sue their former employers.

[…] The group often brought landmark cases to the court, challenging the law to make space for non-traditional families, and often helped start public discussions on those issues.

In April last year, they helped a lesbian sue for custody rights for her children, after her partner took them and stopped communicating with her. 

[…] The group also helped a young woman sue textbook publishers for writing that homosexuality was a disorder in a high profile case that gained national prominence and was reported on by state media. [Source]

Cat Wang of the South China Morning Post highlighted the farewell letter that LGBT Rights Advocacy China released to its supporters:

Its final message on WeChat, one of the country’s leading social media platforms, said: “We are grateful for all your companionship and support over the years. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.

“There may still be many uncertainties in the future, but we look forward to the day when the clouds have dispersed and we can see the blue sky again”. [Source]

Later that same month, The Olive Tree Group (橄榄树公益小组) at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts published a farewell letter urging its members and supporters to embrace love and equality, despite the group’s demise:

In December 2015
The Olive Tree was launched by several students
with each subsequent activity, we grew
from unofficial student group to formal club
offering peer counseling, AIDS prevention, and education on gender diversity
over our six years, we had
hundreds of events
over 100 tweets
7000+ online followers
and served nearly 1,000 people
in 2021, our account was “banned and unnamed”
today, we have decided to disband
yet we hope all of you will stay proud
and that everyone will keep love in their hearts
as they face the sharp voices
face their true selves
embrace equality
and embrace love
although we must part
I hope that we will meet again
good night
see you some other day [
Chinese]

On December 15, another LGBTQ+ group, Cool Voices (酷儿声音), received notice that its WeChat account was permanently banned. This image shows the notification that Cool Voices received from WeChat; the translation appears below. (Some previous content from Cool Voices has been archived on Free WeChat.)

The Cool Voices logo (background) and the notification that its account has been banned (foreground).

Notification of Public Account Ban Due to Account Violations

Hello. Following a platform audit, this public account was found to contain content in violation of the “Interim Provisions on the Administration of the Development of the Public Information Services of Instant Messaging Tools.” All such content has been blocked, and the account has been permanently banned.

Account Name: Cool Voices
Effective Date: December 15, 2021
Regulation in violation: “Interim Provisions on the Administration of the Development of the Public Information Services of Instant Messaging Tools” (click here)
Content in violation: Please log in to the WeChat public website to view a detailed description of the content in violation of regulations.

Contact customer service–>

Tech and Politics Blogger Program-Think

In May, the mysterious blogger known as program-think (编程随想) suddenly fell silent. Since 2009, Program-Think had been posting articles on Blogspot, GitHub, Twitter, and other social media on topics as diverse as coding, Great Firewall circumvention, Chinese politics, and the hidden wealth of China’s political elite. The unaccustomed silence led many to believe program-think had been detained by Chinese state security forces. Although program-think did not post a goodbye letter, the loss of their voice on Chinese social media is widely mourned. CDT’s Chinese editors have chosen program-think as our 2021 Person of the Year, in recognition of their incomparable contributions to Chinese online discourse.

Hong Kong Civil Society Groups and Independent Media

2021 saw a long list of civil society groups and media outlets in Hong Kong being shuttered under threat of prosecution under the National Security Law, with casualties in the spheres of media, civil rights, politics, and education. 

A CDT translation from October summed up the grim situation: “Hong Kong’s civil society is buckling under the weight of the National Security Law. Non-profits, media outlets, and advocacy groups are being forced shut, or else making the difficult decision to shut themselves down before the authorities do it for them.”

On September 8, police arrested four leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and charged them with inciting subversion against state power. The alliance was responsible for organizing the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong. This was followed by the removal of several Tiananmen massacre memorials from university campuses in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong University’s Pillar of Shame.

In the space of just over one week in late June, the assets of the Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily (founded in 1995) were frozen, five of its editors and journalists were arrested and charged with conspiring to “collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” and the newspaper ceased publishing. The final print edition, published on June 24 and numbering over a million copies, included a goodbye letter to readers. 

Late December and early January brought about a new cascade of media closures. On December 29, mirroring the tactics used against Apple Daily, Hong Kong police froze the assets of pro-democracy media outlet Stand News (founded in 2014), raided its headquarters, and arrested seven of its current and former employees on charges of conspiring to publish seditious materials. The publication issued a letter announcing its closure, thanking its readers for their support, and reiterating its editorial viewpoint: “Stand News’s editorial policy was to be independent and committed to safeguarding Hong Kong’s core values of democracy, human rights, freedom, the rule of law and justice.” 

On January 2, 2022, the Cantonese media outlet Citizen News (founded in 2017) issued a goodbye letter in Chinese and English, and announced that it would close for good on January 4. The letter emphasized that the decision was spurred by “the deteriorating media environment” in Hong Kong and the need to protect its staff.

On January 5, presumably to stave off attacks similar to those directed at other Hong Kong media outlets, the long-running Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao (founded in 1959) added a disclaimer to its opinion section. The disclaimer, however carefully worded, may not be enough to protect Ming Pao from becoming the next target: a scathing January 10 editorial in the state-owned Ta Kung Pao suggests that the authorities now have Ming Pao firmly in their sights.

On January 9, there was yet another farewell letter from Hong Kong: HKrev.info, a volunteer-run aggregator of news and information related to the protest movement in Hong Kong, announced that it had become too risky to continue its operations, and thus would be closing its website immediately. 

The loss of these and other media outlets is not only a blow to the people of Hong Kong, but also to readers worldwide who depended on their coverage to explain and contextualize events in Hong Kong.

Alex Yu contributed substantially to the structure and content of this post.

Open popup
X

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.