Alice Xin Liu
Every year around this time, China marks the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. It’s traditionally marked as a day for the living to celebrate the departed, marked by outings to cemeteries. Celebrants leave tea, burn paper or incense, and generally sweep the tomb down clean and clear.
But this year it was what the Chinese government was sweeping offline that had so many people upset.
Last week, it was revealed the Chinese government had closed 16 websites and detained six individuals for “fabricating or disseminating online rumors.” Many of those rumors center on the latest political scandal: the sacking of Bo Xilai, the popular former Chongqing Communist Party Chief.
They began to spread after his deputy, Wang Lijun, sought political asylum at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. That resulted in the top leadership of the Communist Party putting the brakes on all the political intrigue surrounding the pair. After the sacking, rumors started swirling that “military vehicles” were marching into Beijing, and that it was the center of a coup. (These turned out to be false.)
Xinhua reported that the websites include meizhou.net, xn528.com and cndy.com.cn, but these small websites have not affected everyday life in China. But then on March 31, users of China’s most popular blog site, Sina microblog, – also known as weibo.com – woke up to find that although they could repost and share, they couldn’t comment on any of the posts. The same thing happened with another large microblog, qq.com; all comments were turned off.
Predictably, shutting off comments riled up many users, but Weibo had an explanation:
“Weibo users: lately, there have been a lot of unlawful and harmful content appearing in the comments section on microblogs, so from 8AM on March 31 to 8AM on April 3 our comment function will be suspended temporarily. After we have finished this round of regulation, we will re-open the function.”
Han Han, China’s foremost blogger, chose the second day of this three-day shutdown period to speak up. He wrote:
“Flowers lose their petals in the winter, and then bloom again in Spring. Some people go, some people come. In 2010, I closed this account, and also wrote an article about the reasons and my worries about keeping a microblog. In 2012, there is CWB (a service that lets you write more characters and then upload to microblog as an image) so I have decided to restart over here.”
From the morning of April 3, commenting on the microblogs had been returned. People today are still in the process of going back to microblogs and enjoying the newly returned function. Chen Qihan said:
“Even though they shut off the microblog [comment function], I still want to come on, this shows how addicted I am!”
‘China Citizen Li,’ a member of the Hebei Writers’ Association with over 3,000 followers, said ironically:
“On May 4, 2012, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, said that China’s internet is free and open, and that netizens enjoy full freedoms… — it’s just that sometimes, microblog commenting will be closed!”
Perhaps the best characteristic of Sina microblog users is how humorous they are. Of course, the closure of commenting fell on a national holiday, when offices, and presumably web monitors, would be off work for three days.
User ‘Decorate Your Dreams’ attached a screen capture of a news item asking people to visit the graves of China’s national heroes or martyrs. He wrote:
“They’ve turned off commenting on microblog, I don’t feel like going Grave Sweeping.. Even if I went and told the Heroes that the same things are happening today, about how landlords are bullying ordinary people again, the forced grabbing of land are coming thick and fast, and there are more cases of trafficking people, more random taxes, and concubines are in fashion… I don’t want to go, if I went the Heroes whose graves I sweep won’t have a good Festival at all…”