SHANGHAI — On July 6th, when the day was finishing for most Chinese university students, a pop-up notification began to appear on the phones of certain campus LGBTQ activists: "The Wechat account that you are managing is permanently blocked."
He Zhang is the founder of Z Society, a Shanghai-based student academic hub that focuses on gender issues, with more than 70,000 followers on its official account. Suddenly, the page was all blank. " I knew this day would come sooner or later, but I never thought it was going to be so soon."
About 20 influential official accounts that focus on LGBTQ, feminism and gender issues were blocked that night, precisely at 9:53 p.m. All their past articles are gone, back pages were completely blank, and even their names were all turned into "unnamed official account." Tencent, the company that runs Wechat, did not offer any explanations on the ban, and the students in charge of the accounts had no way to appeal. China's Foreign Office responded to related inquiries on July 8 with a single dry sentence: "We manage the internet by the law."
It's notable that in July 2020, the Chinese delegation spoke at the UN Human Rights Council on the issue of violent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, stating that "China opposes all forms of discrimination and violence." Still, LGBTQ-themed films, television dramas, speech, and activist movements have been repeatedly suppressed, and student organizations, which are officially considered difficult to control, have been subjected to increasingly harsh conditions.
They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces.
Blocking the official accounts was not the first move. In May, LGBTQ and feminism campus communities were questioned by their home universities. Each event organized by these communities has been a test of the limits for the ever-tightening space. Students were interviewed by the school several times, pressured by teachers who tried to figure out "the foreign forces" behind the communities.
"They never believed that there is a group of audience out there for our society," said one student activist. "They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces."
According to observers, the shutdown is related to controlling the influence of minority groups by the administration. As social media creates space for free discussion and could even influence public opinion, especially among the young, the government instinctively moves to control and supervise. "The government is actively increasing its monitoring efforts to prevent any unstable factors," noted another activist. "It's especially true this year, which is the centenary anniversary for the founding of the Communist Party of China."
Universities used to be a relatively tolerant environment for discussion in China, especially for spreading ideas of gender equality and providing a sense of community for sexual minorities. But as the government continues to tighten controls, Wechat official accounts had become the "last stand" to voice such ideas. Now, this small haven too looks to also have been completely erased. "It's pretty desperate," said He Zhang, "One by one, things like this are getting worse, and it feels like it's futile to make any effort, and you don't even need any reason to be banned."
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