Popular health-focused outlet DXY is the latest popular science outlet to run afoul of China’s censors and online nationalists. Five DXY Weibo accounts, with a combined total of more than 30 million followers, were simultaneously suspended for unstated reasons earlier this week. There is widespread speculation that DXY’s suspension was prompted by its criticism of the use of Lianhua Qingwen, a herbal medicine based on precepts of traditional Chinese medicine invented during the 2003 SARS crisis, as a treatment for COVID. Censors have also targeted those speaking in defense of DXY. At Bloomberg News, Linda Lew reported on the DXY Weibo accounts’ suspension and the site’s repeated criticism of the Chinese government’s coronavirus treatment policy:
The move comes three months after DXY published an article saying that Lianhua Qingwen, a type of traditional Chinese medicine being promoted by the government for treating Covid-19, hasn’t been shown to prevent infections. It also questioned why the medicine was given priority for distribution over other essentials including food during the recent two-month lockdown in Shanghai. The post, which has since been removed, attracted considerable criticism from people online, some of whom saw it as an attack on traditional Chinese medicine.
[…] The article questioning Lianhua Qingwen came at a time when Beijing was pushing the use of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, for the treatment of Covid both at home and abroad. China has sent TCM specialists to Cambodia and is supporting clinical trials for TCM in Pakistan, both countries that rely heavily on Chinese aid. It was also distributed widely in Hong Kong free of charge to residents during the city’s omicron outbreak in the spring.
[…] China has a track record of censoring criticism of TCM. In April, Wang Sicong, the son of real estate tycoon Wan Jianlin, had his Weibo account banned and then completely removed after he shared a video questioning Yiling Pharmaceutical’s claims about Lianhua Qingwen. [Source]
this is devastating. As I complained before, health authorities in China do not have public facing health information portal like you'd find with NHS. Misinfo & adverts for dodgy clinics are rampant on Baidu. DXY is one of the most trusted sources for health info & education. https://t.co/yyeZnKRrEq
— Chenchen Zhang 🤦🏻♀️ (@chenchenzh) August 10, 2022
for example, if I google "pregnancy food to avoid" I'll be directed to NHS or mayo clinic's pages with reliable, evidence based information
if I baidu 怀孕 忌口, I get an entire page of adverts for various apps. which will say you can't eat 🍉 or 🦀 which is bs. pic.twitter.com/vSPBo0trlU
— Chenchen Zhang 🤦🏻♀️ (@chenchenzh) August 10, 2022
An anecdotal context: for years, my family chat has been fraught with traditional Chinese medicine anti-vaxx disinfo, and DXY is the sole remaining science-based account they’d occasionally listen to. And now it’s gone. https://t.co/ZwKI477XJk
— Tony Lin 林東尼 (@tony_zy) August 10, 2022
DXY has often been a lonely voice of protest against unscientific policies and practices in China. In 2021, the site faced backlash after an affiliated blog posted a lengthy essay detailing the horrors of “conversion therapy,” a pseudo-scientific set of techniques that purportedly “cure” the sexual orientation of LGBTQ+ “patients.” Other science blogs have also come under increasing scrutiny for their politics. In 2021, science blog Paperclip was shuttered after online nationalists accused it of “anti-China” bias because a former staffer at the site had voiced support for democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan on their private social media account. Following its criticism of Lianhua Qingwen and its support for the importation of Pfizer’s COVID treatment Paxlovid, DXY found itself targeted by nationalist criticism that it was unduly influenced by “disorderly capital” (the target of Xi’s effort to remake the Chinese economy) and perhaps even “foreign forces.” At Nikkei Asia, Cissy Zhou reported on how critics of DXY have cast the health blog as unpatriotic:
DXY, whose full name translates as lilac garden, has been attacked by Chinese nationalists since March after the platform cheered Shanghai’s move to import Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an antiviral that helps the body fight off COVID. The government has previously insisted on using only homegrown vaccines.
On Weibo, many users cheered the platform’s suspension, with some accusing the “anti-China” company of receiving U.S. funding.
“The platform should be suspended forever,” one Weibo user wrote. “Otherwise it will come back soon and keep bringing shame on our Chinese culture.” [Source]
Amidst the nationalist gloating, some opposing voices emerged to lament the loss of yet another objective outlet at the hands of censors and nationalists:
风湿科聂医生：Not too long ago they entrapped Teacher Bang Bang and now they’re attacking DXY. A platform that consistently spoke the truth and dealt in science has been suspended. Yet those accounts that spread harmful pseudoscience soldier on. What sorrow, what sorrow. Good doesn’t always defeat evil in our world, yet I still believe that justice will ultimately prevail!
日落时看月月落时还没醒：Sweet, so I guess we’ll keep seeing “Doctor Baidu” for primary care, using folk remedies, and living in a world of witch doctors.
cool琅木踏踏：Shuttering those accounts is tragic and and those cheering it on are pathetic. If the only thing public accounts are allowed to say is traditional Chinese medicine is good and Lianhua Qingwen is miraculous, then what’s the point [of reading on]?
其实等字很浪漫1209：Reading the comment section has finally led me to understand that sometimes studying medicine cannot save humanity because some things are too deeply ingrained.
猩猩上太空：Now even my daily habit of reading DXY has been taken from me. For so long, DXY has been doing good work and posting good content, as any sensible person can see. I hope that it’ll be reinstated soon!!! Don’t take my DXY away!!!!
Dreamitpossiblea：The combo allegation of “capital” & “foreign forces” doesn’t need any legal basis. As long as your opinions are unorthodox, if they want to shut you up, they will.
麦迪文的鸡腿：This is actually hilarious. A group of ignorant people are embarrassing themselves. Everything else aside, DXY took down Quanjian Group. And Sai Lei, who first brought the hammer down on Paperclip and got them shut down, has been shut down himself. Ah, must be nice to get paid for spouting nationalism and tricking you little pinks. Discrediting TCM? Hasn’t TCM blackened its own name enough? [Chinese]
Censors have quashed further discussion and defense of DXY. The Weibo account 风湿科聂医生 was suspended for its post, translated above, defending DXY as a truthful platform dealing only in science. Censors also deleted a WeChat essay posted to the blog 基本常识 that praised DXY for “lowering the barriers to gaining reliable medical information” on the Chinese internet. Another WeChat essay that lamented “without DXY, it will be a huge loss for bright students in those fields, as a huge chunk of useful information will have disappeared” was likewise scrubbed from WeChat. Censors also took down a WeChat account that criticized those celebrating DXY’s suspension despite not knowing precisely why the account was barred: “What surprises and terrifies me is that people don’t ask ‘why?’ anymore. Instead, their subconscious response is to cheer or curse. It’s this mood that is the greatest stumbling block to the development of a true sense of rule of law among the population.”