The story that melted netizens’ hearts this summer was that of runner Dion Leonard who found a true friend in a little stray dog during his participation in the Gobi March of 2016.
The stray dog joined the runner on his run after he hung around the runners’ camp on the first day of the march. The two became inseparable after running for days on end together. The love grew so big that Leonard decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs for bringing the dog he named Gobi back with him to Scotland, where Leonard resides.
But during the first period of quarantine in the city of Urumqi, Gobi unexpectedly run away and went missing. Leonard did not hesitate and flew to China to look for his friend. The search started on August 15 and continued for nine days, with chances and hopes of finding the little stray dog growing smaller every day. Leonard and his helpers asked the help of Weibo netizens, who also spread the news about the missing dog.
Today Leonard and his search team announced on the Bring Gobi Home Facebook page that Gobi had been found:
“Gobi has been found!!! She’s safe & well, a wee sore leg but over joyed to see Dion as you will see in the video! Sticks to him like glue! A massive thank you to all the support, especially the group of Volunteers that have been working tirelessly to find her!
Thank you thank you from the bottom of our hearts, we are overjoyed!”
They also posted a short video that shows a happy Gobi cuddling with Leonard.
Gobi is expected to fly home to Leonard in Edinburg in December, when the quarantine period is finished. That will undoubtedly be one fluffy, merry Christmas.
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Chinese Man Sentenced to Prison for Selling VPN Software
A Chinese man running a small-scale website on which he sold VPN software has been sentenced to 9 months in prison. Weibo netizens take the man’s prosecution as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows people to browse websites that are blocked in China.
A 26-year-old man from the city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for selling VPN software through his own website.
According to China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) database (China Judgments Online) Deng Jiewei was found guilty for the crime of “illegal control of a computer system”, contained in Article 285 of China’s Criminal Law.
The criminal law Article states:
“Whoever violates state regulations and intrudes into computer systems with information concerning state affairs, construction of defense facilities, and sophisticated science and technology is be sentenced to not more than three years of fixed-term imprisonment or criminal detention.”
The prosecution notice, issued online on an information disclosure platform of the People’s Procuratorate (人民检察院案件信息公开网), states that the man was arrested in October of 2016 for setting up a .com website earlier last year through which he offered two types of VPN software, making a total profit of approximately 2125 US$ (14000 RMB).
The notice clarifies that the .exe software sold by Deng allowed users to circumvent China’s web censorship and visit foreign websites.
“I am scared we could all be arrested now.”
Although the sentencing took place in January of this year, the news only surfaced on Chinese social media on September 3rd, soon gaining over 6000 shares on one Weibo post about the issue, and over 4000 shares of another post that reported the sentencing.
Many netizens questioned the severity of the punishment for selling a program to browse the Internet. “The crime of wanting to know the truth and selling a ladder,” one person said, referring to VPNs as a way to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. Another Weibo user posted an image of George Orwell’s 1984 in response to the news.
One commenter sarcastically wrote: “I suggest we now also bring back the crime of counter-revolution (反革命).”
Some netizens wondered how the man could have been prosecuted under Article 285: “How can using a VPN be defined as ‘intruding into computer systems’?”, one Weibo user asked.
Another person also noted that the law concerns the intrusion of computer systems relating to ‘state affairs’, but that the prosecuted man was only running a small-scale website selling VPN software. “According to this sentencing, I am also guilty for using a VPN,” he said. Another commenter shared similar worries: “I am scared we could all be arrested now.”
Chinese authorities have introduced numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) this year. In January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice that it will strictly contain the unapproved use of VPNs by Chinese firms.
In July, Bloomberg News reported that the Chinese government had instructed telecommunications carriers to block VPN access by all individuals in China by February 2018. Shortly thereafter, Apple removed all major VPN apps from the App Store in China.
On Weibo, some see the prison sentence for the VPN-seller in Guangdong as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows users to browse blocked websites. “The dark days are coming,” one man writes.
Featured image by paper.wenweipo.com
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No Man’s City – A Chinese Blogger’s Powerful Essay About The “Fake Lives” of Beijing Residents
An essay titled “Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live There” by Chinese blogger Zhang Wumao has gone viral on Chinese social media. The essay describes how Beijing has changed into a city that is overrun by ‘outsiders’ and no longer belongs to the ‘old Beijingers.’ The article has now been censored. Chinese state media say the essay impedes good relations between Beijing’s locals and immigrants.
An online essay titled “Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live Here” (or: “There are 20 Million People in Beijing Pretending to Have a Life” “北京,有2000万人假装在生活”, full English translation here) by Chinese writer and blogger Zhang Wumao (张五毛) became a viral hit on WeChat and Weibo after it was published on the author’s WeChat account on July 23.
The essay is a witty yet powerful critique of Beijing and its residents. Over the last decade, and especially over the past few years, Beijing has undergone enormous changes. The city is expanding, high-rise buildings are mushrooming, while old hutong areas are bricked up and familiar neighborhoods demolished for the sake of the city’s metamorphosis in an ‘international metropolis.’
According to Mr. Zhang, the city’s rapid transformation has turned it into a place with no identity; a place that nobody can call home. The essay argues that Beijing has been overrun by migrant workers or waidiren (外地人, ‘people from outside the city’), and that these ‘outsiders’ have turned China’s capital into a place with staggering house prices and heavy traffic that lacks soul. The city no longer really belongs to native Beijingers, Zhang writes, as they cannot even recognize their old neighborhoods anymore.
The essay describes how Beijing has become so big, so full, and so expensive, that life has virtually become unsustainable. The result of Beijing’s transformation, according to the post, is that its residents, both locals and immigrants, just “pretend to live there”, leading “fake lives.”
“It was destined to go viral. It ridicules Beijing + it talks about migrant workers + real estate market + and state of life.”
Zhang Wumao, whose real name is Zhang Guochen (张国臣), is an author born in the early 1980s. He is from Luonan, Shaanxi, and came to Beijing at the age of 25 in 2006. A year later he started blogging. He previously published the novels Spring is Burning (春天在燃烧) and Princess’s Tomb (公主坟).
Zhang’s online essay about Beijing spread like wildfire on WeChat and Weibo on Sunday. It was viewed over 5 million times within an evening and soon became a trending article on WeChat. It triggered wide debate across Chinese social media on the lives of people in Beijing.
On Monday and Tuesday, the essay was also republished by various Chinese media such as Tencent News, iFeng, and Sohu.com.
But on July 25, the full text was removed from all social media accounts and Chinese online newspapers. Its hashtag on Weibo (#北京有2000万人假装在生活#) is now no longer accessible.
The article also disappeared from Zhang’s WeChat account.
On Quora-like discussion platform Zhihu.com, one person said the essay was destined to become a hype: “This is a typical Wechat viral article. It ridicules Beijing + it talks about migrant workers + real estate market + and state of life. As it contains all of these elements in 1 article, the author just intended for this to become a hit.”
A SENSITIVE ESSAY
“What Beijingers increasingly feel is the suffocation of the smog and the high cost of housing. They cannot move, they cannot breathe.”
Zhang’s essay is divided into five paragraphs. In the first part, he explains that Beijingers often seem inhospitable; the city is so huge and congested, that people simply cannot find the time to see their friends in other parts of the city.
“Beijing is really too big; so big that it is simply not like a city at all. It is equivalent to 2.5 times Shanghai, 8.4 times Shenzhen, 15 times Hong Kong, 21 times New York, or 27 times Seoul. When friends from outside come to Beijing, they think they’re close to me. But actually, we’re hardly in the same city at all.”
“For 10 years, Beijing has been controlling housing, controlling traffic, and controlling the population. But this pancake is only getting wider and bigger, so much that when a school friend from Xi’an calls me to say he’s in Beijing and I ask him where he is, he tells me: “I am at the 13th Ring.” Beijing is a tumor, and no one can control how fast it is growing; Beijing is a river, and no one can draw its borders. Beijing is a believer, and only Xiong’an can bring salvation.”
The second part, which is titled ‘Beijing actually belongs to outsiders’ (北京其实是外地人的北京), claims that Beijing is one of the most beloved cities in China because of its rich cultural heritage and long history, but that this is something that is only of value to people from outside the city.
“In the 11 years since I’ve come to Beijing, I have been to the Great Wall 11 times, 12 times the Imperial Palace, 9 times to the Summer Palace, and 20 times to the Bird’s Nest. I feel emotionless about this city’s great architecture and long history. (..) Going into the Forbidden City, I only see one empty house after the other – it’s less interesting than the lively pigsties we have in my native village.”
“Upon mentioning Beijing, many people first think of the Palace Museum, Houhai, 798; they think of history, culture, and high-rise buildings. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s good! Does it make us proud? It does! But you can’t make food out of these things. What Beijingers increasingly feel is the suffocation of the smog and the high cost of housing. They cannot move, they cannot breathe.”
He then goes on to mock the old residents of Beijing, who still have the upper hand in the real estate market despite the flood of new immigrants, all owning “five-room houses.” The old Beijingers lead very different lives from the migrant workers, who are caught in a negative spiral of hard work, no social life, and finding a place to settle down.
“In Beijing, the migrant workers, who have no real estate from previous generations, are destined to be trapped in their house for life. They strive for over a decade to buy an apartment the size of a bird cage; then spend another decade struggling to get a house that has two rooms rather than one. If that goes well, congratulations, you can now consider an apartment in the school district.”
“With a house in the school district, children can attend Tsinghua or Peking University. But Tsinghua graduates will still not be able to afford a room in that district. They will then either need to stay crammed together in the old shabby family apartment, or start from scratch, struggling for another apartment.”
“For Beijing’s new immigrants, the city is a distant place where they can’t stay; for Beijing’s old residents, the city is an old home they can’t return to.”
In the final part of the essay, however, Zhang shows his sympathy for the old residents of Beijing:
“I once took a taxi to Lin Cui Road. Because I was afraid the driver wouldn’t know the way, I opened the navigation on my phone to help him find the way. He said he did not need the navigation because he knew that place. There was a flour mill there 30 years ago, he said, it was demolished 10 years ago, and they built low-income housing there. I asked him how he knew this so well. “That used to be my home,” he said, the sorrow showing in his face.”
“I could hear nostalgia and resentment from the driver’s words. For Beijing’s new immigrants, the city is a distant place where they can’t stay; for Beijing’s old residents, the city is an old home they can’t return to.”
“We, as outsiders, ridicule Beijing on the one hand, while on the other hand, we cherish our hometowns. But in fact, we can still go back to our hometown. It is still there. (..) But for the old Beijingers, there really is no way to go back to their hometown. It has changed with unprecedented speed. We can still find our grandfather’s old house. The majority of Beijingers can only find the location of their old homes through the coordinates on a map.”
He concludes his article by highlighting the recent demolishment of old Beijing shops and restaurants, saying that the city is being renovated but is becoming less livable.
“Those who chase their dreams of success are now escaping [Beijing]. They’re off to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the West Coast of the United States. Those who’ve lost hope of chasing their dreams are also escaping. They return to Hebei, the Northeast, their hometowns.”
He ends by writing: “There are over 20 million people left in this city, pretending to live. In reality, there simply is no life in this city. Here, there are only some people’s dreams and everybody’s jobs.”
CHINESE MEDIA RESPONSES
“The contrast between old Beijingers and new immigrants is exaggerated, and it polarizes the relationship between locals and outsiders.”
Despite censorship of the actual text, Zhang’s essay is widely discussed by Chinese official media.
State media outlet People’s Daily (@人民日报) writes on Weibo:
“The essay ‘Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live There’ is a viral hit but is not approved of. There really is such a thing as the “Big City Disease”, and we do not need to pretend as if people in first-tier cities are not struggling and facing hardships. But in Beijing, both locals and outsiders are alive and kicking; they are all the more real because of their dreams. Making a living is hard, but it is the days of watching flowers blossom and wilt that are full of life. The city and its people don’t have it easy, but they have to show some tolerance for each other and then they can both succeed.”
Xinhua News Agency also published a response to the article titled: “Lives in the City Cannot Be Fake” (“一个城市的生活无法“假装“).
Lashing out against Mr. Zhang, they write that: “Beijing has no human warmth, Beijing is a city of outsiders, old Beijingers can’t go back to their city – behind every one of these sentences is not the ‘fakeness’ of Beijing, but the clamor of the author’s emotions about ‘coming to Beijing.'”
State broadcaster CCTV (@央视新闻) also responds to the essay on Weibo, saying:
“Over the past few days, the essay ‘Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live There’ has exploded on the Internet, but how the text portrays the contrast between old Beijingers and new immigrants is exaggerated, and it polarizes the relationship between native Beijingers and outsiders. In reality, Beijing is not as cold as it is described in the essay. Everyone already knows that it’s not easy living in a big city. The future of Beijing is in the hands of competent, daring and hardworking people who pursue their dreams.”
A STORM OF DEBATE
“I am one of these 20 million people, and my life is not fake – I am living it.”
On social media, many netizens commented on the state media’s responses to Zhang, saying they were tired of the repeated emphasis on “people’s dreams.” One person said: “My belly is empty, what are you talking about dreams for?! Dreams cannot guarantee our most basic needs for survival.”
Many people on Weibo and QQ also applauded Zhang’s essay for being “well-written”, “honest”, and “real.”
But there are also those who do not agree with the essay and take offense at how it describes Beijingers leading “fake” or “pretense” lives. A Beijing resident nicknamed ‘Little Fish’ (@小小的爱鱼) commented: “What on earth gave him the courage to speak on behalf of 20 million Beijing people? I am one of these 20 million people, and sorry, but my life is not fake – I am living it.”
“I work overtime until 9 pm, then take the bus and subway and won’t arrive home before 23:38, then quickly rinse my face and brush my teeth and roll into bed. But it’s still life. What life and being alive is all about ultimately is a personal issue,” one other netizen from Beijing says.
“Mr. Zhang,” one angry commenter writes: “You can leave this cold and big city of Beijing, and go back to your ‘real’ live in that pigsty of yours that’s supposedly more imposing than the Forbidden City.”
The recent hype surrounding Zhang’s essay somewhat resembles the overnight buzz over the autobiographical essay of Beijing migrant worker Fan Yusu. This essay also described various hardships in the lives of Beijing migrant workers.
Fan Yusu’s essay and posts related to it were also taken offline after several days when discussions on the account spread across Chinese social media.
Zhang’s hit essay shows that the combination of writing about “migrant workers + Beijing + real estate + state of life” = indeed one that is bound to attract wide attention and debate on social media. Although it is also a recurring topic in China’s official media, those channels prefer to focus on the idea of hardworking people who pursue their (Chinese) dreams, rather than to spread a narrative about people living “fake lives” in a cold city.
One commenter says: “Whether you fake it or you try hard, it’s all okay: this is Beijing. It’s not livable, but you sure can make a living.”
Special thanks to Diandian Guo.
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