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How Ren Zhiqiang Disappeared From China’s Social Media

Chinese opinion leader Ren Zhiqiang is no longer on Weibo as of February 28. After critiquing the Party for the second time within six months, his accounts across China’s social media were closed by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

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Chinese opinion leader Ren Zhiqiang is no longer on Weibo as of February 28. After critiquing the Party for the second time within six months, his accounts across China’s social media were closed by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Ren Zhiqiang (任志强) has become the talk of the week – both in China’s domestic media, as in the international headlines. The Chinese opinion leader (38 million Weibo followers) and retired real estate entrepreneur, who is known for his critical stance on political and social issues, commented on President’s Xi’s February 19 tour of Chinese media through his Weibo account earlier this week.

According to Ren, China’s media should serve the people – not the government. “When all media have surnames and do not represent the people’s interests, the people will be cast aside into a forgotten corner!” he wrote on his Weibo (The Economist).

Just five months ago, Ren Zhiqiang was also hot news on Sina Weibo. Ren Zhiqiang then responded to a Weibo post of the Communist Youth League (the youth movement of the Communist Party of China) that reiterated their strong belief in communism. Ren replied with a post titled “Are we the successors of Communism?

In his blog, Ren critiqued the Communist Youth League, saying: “We’ve been deceived by these communist slogans for years!” He wrote about his experience with communism in the past, and shared his views for it in the future.

“We’ve been deceived for years. The Cultural Revolution only let me know the class struggle under a proletarian dictatorship. And that there is no next generation of communism,” Ren wrote: “The invincible Mao Zedong Thought has let thousands of people starve to death, and we don’t even know who many people died through persecution during the Cultural Revolution. Maybe even more people died because of wrong political policies than because of the war.”

The post instantly became a trending topic and received thousands of messages of sympathy from Weibo users. Although the discussion about communism was moderated by Weibo censors, commenters did write some strong uncensored statements (“what the f*ck is communism?!“)

But with his critique of the past week, Ren seemed to have taken it too far. His Weibo account has now been closed. Dagongbao writes on Weibo: “On February 28, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) ordered Sina, Tencent and other blogs to comply with the law and close Ren Zhiqiang’s accounts. As stated by CAC spokesperson Jiang Jun, netizens have reported Ren Zhiqiang to have a negative influence and persistently publish illegal news.”

The news of Ren’s Weibo account being shut down (“任志强微博被关”) was shared amongst Weibo netizens, with some finding it hard to believe. “Was Ren Zhiqiang’s account really closed?” Shenzhen Interview wonders: “It seems to be real..”.

Chinese television pundit and writer Sima Nan (司马南) responded to the issue on Weibo with a somewhat cryptic comment, saying that “Ren Zhiqiang has broken the rules, but the issue is definitely not as simple as just breaking Party discipline,” and that “this issue of critiquing Party discipline should be handled within the Party.” He also insinuated that there was no freedom of speech on the internet and wrote that “the only solution is to learn from America’s CIA”. Although his post initially attracted over 4855 comments, a few minutes later only 11 comments remained uncensored (see screenshots).

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Although Ren Zhiqiang no longer has a Weibo account, his name is not blocked from China’s (social) media. How and what is discussed, however, remains moderated by Weibo’s censors. In that regards, it is business as usual. Ren’s statements of last September, that remained online for nearly six months, now seem to have been the exception to the rule.

– By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

‘Hard Isolation’ is Shanghai’s New Word of the Day

In line with a new ‘hard isolation’ measure, the entrances of some Shanghai residential buildings were fenced up.

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While some Shanghai households have already endured weeks of isolation, a new word was added to their epidemic vocabulary today: ‘hard isolation’ or ‘strong quarantine’ (yìng gélí 硬隔离)

The word popped up on Chinese social media on April 23rd after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out.

“New word: hard isolation. Shanghai is rotten to the core,” one commenter wrote.

The word soon turned into a hashtag page where people started commenting on the issue of fences being placed around residential buildings, voicing concerns on what a fence around buildings would mean for fire safety, especially after online rumors suggested that there had been a fire at one community in Pudong on Saturday night.

An official document regarding the ‘hard isolation’ measure was also shared online on Saturday. It is dated April 23, 2022, and its source is the Pudong New Area Office for Epidemic Control.

The document states that in line with the guidelines for the city’s epidemic prevention and control, the division between areas or zones that are in certain risk categories should be ‘optimized,’ with those in the high-risk category requiring a ‘hard isolation.’ Security guards should also be on duty 24 hours a day at the entrance of the buildings.

Earlier this month, Shanghai adopted “3-level control measures” after its initial phased lockdown. It means that local areas will be classified as “locked-down,” “controlled” or “precautionary,” based on their Covid19 risk.

“Could we also put fences around the homes of Shanghai leaders?”, one person suggested, while others posted images from the Walking Dead to mock the situation.

In the hope of Shanghai soon tackling the Covid situation, not everybody disagreed with the decision to fence some buildings or communities in the Pudong area: “I don’t disagree with it, as long as there is always someone there to open the fence in case of fire,” one person stated.

Although having a fence around their building is currently not a reality for most in Shanghai, the online photos of some communities seeing their buildings being fenced up is a reason to worry for some: “It’s been 40 days, and now they start hard isolation? This actually scares me. Before we know it, it’s June.”

One Weibo user asked: “Why is it possible to implement this hard isolation now? Was this created by the same persons who also implemented the rule to separate children from parents at isolation sites?”

“I truly can’t imagine why some people thought this is a good idea,” others wrote.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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