While newspapers have been heavily censored, real discussion is taking place on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and other online forums. But even there, someone is keeping watch.
The stakes are rising in Hong Kong, as the pro-democracy "Umbrella" movement holds firm on its fifth day despite warnings from Chinese authorities to disperse. On Thursday, following the previous day's national day celebrating the founding of the People's Republic, state police in Hong Kong warned demonstrators of “serious consequences” if they continue their unauthorized gathering. Up to 87 rounds of tear gas have been tallied, but demonstrators continue to stay in Hong Kong's central financial district, umbrellas in hand, demanding free elections.
And how is it all playing out in mainland China? The movement, like others that challenge the central government directly, has been heavily censored in newspapers and television. Even independent dailies and websites go no further than simply quoting the state-run People’s Daily and Xinhua Agency on this issue.
But as we've seen in other occasions, there is still space to react on social media, notably Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter. But the voices of the masses on events were decidedly mixed:
People’s Daily’s Weibo account: "The decision made by the central government of the Hong Kong CE candidates should not be challenged, it is legal…"
Comment from the Weibo user: "We should all fight against those rebels, especially on the birthday of our mother country!"
Though it is still open, even on Weibo certain pro-Hong Kong opinions are not welcome. When you type "Hong Kong" in the search engine of the social media platform, only pro-central government remarks come out among the top results. Still, there is space for both sides:
A lawyer on Weibo: Mainland China provides Hong Kong with as much resources as possible, but Hong Kong never pays back a dime! And they criticized the Chinese kid who pees on the street in Hong Kong! They are cold blood people!
Response from Weibo user: Shame on you as a lawyer!
From a professor of Beijing University: People in Hong Kong are living in indecent conditions, a 100-square-meter apartment is divided into 10 small cabins, in each cabin, live two persons.
But other Chinese don’t share his sympathies.
Dialogue on Weibo between pro-Hong Kong and a pro-central government users:
-Those who say that “only the central government can save the Hong Kong economy” are those who have never visited other places than their home city.
-This dream of democracy will end once mainland China stops providing Hong Kong with fresh water.
-Right, for you the mainland China is the center of the universe.
Meanwhile, Instagram, which has some great images from Hong Kong, has been banned in China since the first day of demonstrations. It joins Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in being banned on the mainland.
Back in Hong Kong, where Facebook is still visible, students called for international support.
Another Hong Kong student explaining why it is wrong to think that “only the central government can save Hong Kong economy.”
The Facebook page of the event: United for Democracy—Global solidarity with Hong Kong