Minitrue: “Win This Smokeless War” Over Online Discourse on Xinjiang Lockdown

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. 


Notice from the Public Security Internet Monitoring Department: Effective immediately, no group is to pass on any content (including video, audio, or text) that has not received official confirmation or that conveys negative energy! Group leaders and managers, please diligently and conscientiously attend to this! Any reposted material that lacks official confirmation, causes public panic, or exerts negative and malign influence will, without exception, lead to detention! Cases rising to the level of criminality will be investigated in accordance with the law to determine criminal responsibility and restore social peace and harmony! It is our conviction that the Party and government have the capacity and determination to win this smokeless war! Urgent notice! [Chinese]

All media: Today, nine districts and villages in Yining emerge from lockdown, with residents free to leave their homes for scheduled activity periods. Please promptly dispatch reporters to the aforementioned districts and villages to record scenes of the resident masses leaving their homes and going about their business, children having fun, and smiling seniors taking leisurely strolls in their assigned zones, and effectively package these scenes for publicity broadcasts. At the same time, widely disseminate these video clips on WeChat, news sites, Douyin, and other such platforms. [Chinese]

The above directives and a third published on Friday are part of an effort by local authorities to build a digital Potemkin village that obscures the reality of the lockdown in Yili (or Ili), a Kazakh autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang experiencing a minor COVID outbreak. In recent days, Yili residents have inundated Weibo with posts detailing the deprivations they have suffered under lockdown. By threatening those who share information with criminal charges and “flooding” social media with staged scenes of quotidian bliss, the Party and the government hope to win a “smokeless” social media war against Yili residents’ own accounts of life under lockdown. Arrest is no empty threat: police in Yining (the prefecture’s largest city, known as Ghulja in Uyghur and Qulja in Kazakh) announced the detention of four men who allegedly “spread rumors on the internet, incited antagonistic sentiments, disrupted the order of anti-pandemic measures, [which] resulted in negative social repercussions.”

What’s On Weibo translated excerpts from viral posts that alleged widespread food shortages and difficulty accessing medical care. Reporting from major American news organizations corroborates the content of many of the posts. “We’ve been locked up in our home for more than 40 days. We are short of everything, especially food [….] There are so many difficulties, I feel like crying just by mentioning them,” an Yili resident told The Washington Post. The New York Times found that women have only sporadic access to feminine hygiene products and that diapers are similarly hard to come by. Yili residents have used an open-access spreadsheet to help coordinate mutual aid in the absence of government assistance. University students created a similar spreadsheet to help individuals access medical care during the early days of the Shanghai lockdown. (Shared spreadsheets have also been used to organize rescue work after the Zhengzhou floods and to help tech workers fight exploitation.) Last Friday, regional officials partially acknowledged the outcry by blaming local officials for the hardships incurred by the lockdown and offering their “deepest apology” for the disruptions to daily life. 

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.


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