“When people from other places come to Wuhan now, they will have the feeling that nothing has ever happened here,” said Ai Xiaoming, sitting in the book-filled study of her home in the city in the heart of China’s coronavirus outbreak. last january.
“It feels like they don’t know anything about the dead or about the feelings of the families,” said the 67-year-old writer and documentary filmmaker. “The [Chinese] the media rarely report on these issues. There is no space for these people to tell their stories ”.
Ai was one of three female writers censored for sharing journal entries on major Chinese social media platforms during the 76-day Covid-19 shutdown in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. They continue to fight to make their voices heard, almost a year later.
Ai and Fang Fang, 65, were often censored for their strident calls for freer speech and for local officials to be responsible for keeping residents in the dark in the month before Wuhan was abruptly blocked on the 23rd. January 2020.
However, most of the entries in her journal were aimed simply at sharing personal reflections and raising awareness of the plight of neighbors, volunteers, and medical workers.
Another writer, Guo Jing, 29, was repeatedly censored for sharing content aimed at raising awareness of cases of domestic violence, isolation and the heavy burden of family duties that fell on women during the period in the provincial capital of Hubei. .
Ai, who previously recounted HIV-infected villagers and the corruption that led to the collapse of schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, had her WeChat account, on the ubiquitous social media platform owned by tech giant Tencent, permanently closed. during closing.
Wang Fang, who writes under the pseudonym Fang Fang, is the best known of the three. his Wuhan Diary It was published in English in June last year, though that has also caused her problems at home after stalwart nationalists harassed her for publishing the account abroad.
His diary posts were initially read and shared by millions in China, but the entries began to be censored. “Political correctness has such a priority that when we are in a crisis, even crying and grief are considered [to be] shaming the country and giving the sword to the outside world, “he told the Observer.
In her lockdown diary, the Wuhan resident relayed her ongoing battle with censors and commentators by posting snippets of her diary on WeChat and Weibo, the Sina-owned social media platform. And while she was constantly censored, other voices attacking her had free rein.
Although Fang Fang’s WeChat and Weibo accounts had not been suspended, they were still occasionally blocked, he said.
Selectively blocking certain types of speech while allowing other “frenzied” speeches to flourish is an obstacle to further reform and openness in China, she believes. “The consequences of that will naturally be dangerous,” he said.
Fang Fang said publishers in China had stopped publishing works for which she was hired, including her latest novels, although previously published books can still be found in bookstores.
“For a professional writer, not being able to publish and publicize his work is a very cruel punishment,” he said.
That punishment, of course, pales in comparison to the four-year sentence imposed by a Shanghai court on 37-year-old lawyer-turned-citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on December 28. Zhang was sentenced for “causing fights and causing trouble” by reporting from a blocked Wuhan and posting videos and information snippets on YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms.
In China, the government requires journalists to carry state-distributed press cards and prohibits most independent journalism. It is another layer of censorship that is not often questioned.
“Zhang Zhan showed by his actions that all those rules are ridiculous,” Ai said. “She doesn’t care about any of those. In that sense, it represents a kind of personality that is not from this century, nor from the last century, but from the future. She is so brave. “
For feminist writer Guo Jing, who also faced difficulties publishing reports during and after the outbreak, suffering censorship and penalties for speaking out had the cumulative effect of altering what people thought they could discuss both online and offline.
“I think the scary thing about censorship is that it generates self-censorship and everyone is censoring each other,” Guo said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, someone’s got their account frozen for posting this and that, maybe you shouldn’t be posting that kind of thing,’ they say.”
The other important aspect was the ever-changing definition of what was sensitive or not, and the unclear rules about what could be said. “We never know what the standard is,” he said.
As for the guilt of China’s social media platforms in censorship, writers agreed that they did play a significant role, but ultimately it came down to authorities ordering takedowns or calling for certain topics to be controlled.
“Social media platforms want traffic, so removing hot topics wouldn’t be good for them either,” Guo said.
Asked by him Observer Commenting on why the writers’ posts had been or continued to be censored, Tencent responded: “Tencent’s mission is to create platforms for users to connect and communicate openly. Tencent abides by local laws related to Internet content, and we comply with all regulations and laws of the countries and markets in which we operate. “
Sina did not respond to similar requests for comment.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism