A rare piece of good news for freedom of expression in China: Sina Weibo, confronting a colossal backlash from the public following its ban on homosexual content issued last Friday, announced today that it had reversed the decision, limiting the cleanup campaign to only pornographic and violent comics and games.
“We won’t target gay content anymore in this cleanup of games and anime,” Weibo administration announced (in Chinese) on April 16, a mere three days after the initial ban was issued. “Instead, we’ll focus on content with pornographic and violent themes. Thank you for your discussions and suggestions.”
The initial decision had been met with uproar.
A hashtag campaign “I am homosexual” (#我是同性恋 wǒ shì tóngxìngliàn) took off quickly after the announcement on Friday, with hundreds of thousands of people proudly stating their gay identity and sharing stories of coming out in protest of the original ban. Before the campaign page was taken down by Weibo, it attracted more than 240 million views and 170,000 posts bearing the hashtag.
“We are all gay tonight” (#今夜我们都是同志 jīnyè wǒmen dōu shì tóngzhì), the Beijing LGBT Center wrote in a Facebook post.
An old video (embedded above) of a social experience in which some gay men and women sought hugs on the Chinese streets was shared more than 238,000 times on Weibo, with about 53,800 comments.
Feminist and founder of influential online platform Women’s Voices Lu Pin 吕频 tweeted:
After giving up censoring homosexual content, Weibo reactivate the hashtag “我是同性恋”/ “I m homosexual” which has accumulated 5.5 hundred million times of reading. This victorious moment definitely deserves celebrating for a while before next wave of suppression come. pic.twitter.com/27heH6npMh
— 吕频Lü Pin (@pinerpiner) April 16, 2018
“The Gay Voice,” a Weibo account that started in 2009 with around 230,000 followers, announced its suspension on April 14, and the post attracted widespread attention on Weibo. The account is now back online (in Chinese).
Weibo’s reversal constitutes a rare case in the history of the company, one of the biggest and most popular social media platforms in China: it is highly unusual to lift censorship of a certain topic in direct response to user feedback. It also marked an unprecedented triumph for the gay community in China.
In more unexpected news, the People’s Daily published a commentary (in Chinese) on Sunday emphasizing that there is more than one sexual orientation in the world, and that homosexuality is by no means a psychological disorder. Citing a textbook of sex education for primary school students in China, the article argued:
It’s personal choice as to whether you approve of homosexuality or not. But rationally speaking, it should be consensus that everyone should respect other people’s sexual orientations.
The commentary was relegated to the “Strong Country Forum” section of the People’s Daily, and it did not appear in the print edition, but one must take comfort in small signs of hope.