“Beijing Man” Is No Laughing Matter For Censors

A Party-controlled Weibo account’s attempt to shame a young woman for violating pandemic restrictions backfired this week after one netizen flipped the prompt on its head by blaming Xi Jinping for instituting the restrictions in the first place. The official Weibo account of Beijing Toutiao, an outlet under a media conglomerate controlled by the Beijing branch of the Communist Youth League, shared a notice from a police account about the detention of a Ms. Liu, who disregarded an October 29 order to quarantine at home and continued about her life in Beijing. On November 2, Ms. Liu tested positive for COVID-19. Police then charged her with violating laws regarding the transmission of infectious diseases. Beijing Toutiao attached the hashtag “Beijing Woman Causes 2,700 People To Be Temporarily Quarantined” above the post. The comment section soon filled with criticism about naming and shaming the woman, with some likening it to the Cultural Revolution-era practice of parading supposed political enemies through the streets with placards identifying their “crimes.” (In one notorious incident, this old practice was revived in Guangxi for pandemic policy violators.) Weibo user @毕达哥拉斯远房亲戚 (which translates as “Pythagoras’ distant relative”) expressed their disagreement with the post by offering this riposte to the hashtag: “Beijing Man Causes 1.4 Billion People To Be Quarantined Long-Term,” an obvious reference to Xi Jinping. Others re-posted the joke with laudatory comments such as “Awesome!” or “Fucking lost my shit laughing!”

Soon after, censors deleted the account. Searches for @毕达哥拉斯远房亲戚 no longer return results, and clicking on the original Weibo page link generates a pop-up message indicating that the user does not exist. Online commentary on Xi is routinely censored. Another netizen, riffing on @毕达哥拉斯远房亲戚’s comment, wrote, “Beijing Man responsible for the deletion of 1.4 million Weibo accounts.” 

The joke about account deletion had a heightened irony in light of Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei’s recent post alleging that Twitter censorship had “been a bit overboard” before Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform. Wang wrote that shuttering accounts should only be done in accordance with the law, and claimed that Weibo accounts are only permanently shuttered when they have violated national law. A firestorm ensued in the comment section to Wang Gaofei’s post: “How do you have the gall to comment?” Another commenter wrote, “The truth comes out: my last account was shut down by the nation itself.” Another intimated that Wang might be criticizing Twitter censorship to obliquely complain about Weibo censorship: “Is Weibo’s chief perhaps speaking in parables?”

In the Xi Jinping era, the masses are not the only ones subject to stringent censorship. At the Associated Press, Dake Kang wrote about the increasing controls on what reporters can write in internal reports for China’s top leaders:

But a Xinhua journalist famed for internal reports that helped take down a senior executive at a state company is now unable to publish, according to a close associate. Though the internal reference system remains powerful and active, they said, the risks of reporting sensitive information have grown.

“Before, he could make these disclosures because Xinhua had the power to protect him,” the associate said, declining to be named for fear of retribution. “Now, they say he can’t report these things anymore.”

[…] So while internal reports now draw heavily on online information, the internet itself has become strictly censored, which can distort the message sent to the top.

[…] “The information bubble is very serious,” Zhao [Tong, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,] said. “I’m not sure even the authorities have a grasp of how popular a certain view really is.” [Source]

In an essay for German outlet Deutsche Welle, Chang Ping reminded readers that the internal reference system has never been free from political influence. He shared the story of People’s Daily reporter Wang Jinfeng, who spent five years in prison during the Cultural Revolution after filing an internal report critical of the Shanghai-based 4th Air Corps’ mandate that pilots and air traffic controllers shout Maoist slogans before each in-flight conversation in order to “occupy the heavens through Mao Zedong Thought.”

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