And then they came for my mom’s WeChat group

Access Archive

Dear Access members,

Sam Crane, a scholar of Chinese philosophy, religion, and politics, will join us next week — time and date to be confirmed on our member Slack channel.

Today, we got four things for you at the top. Unlike most newsletters this summer, today’s issue does NOT include a trade war update in the introductory section. There’s nothing really new to report!

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief

Click Here1. And then they came for my mom’s WeChat group

The Party’s steady strangulation of public conversation is being felt by people who never previously worried about what they said online.

Yesterday, Jacky Luo, an engineer for the Silicon Valley payments company Square, tweeted a thread that began:

the chinese government shut down my mom’s college wechat group. it included people in and out of china who would chat about social issues in the country — just ordinary people making conversation. thursday morning, when my mom checked it, it was silent.

usually there were hundreds of messages every morning. that day, none. by thursday afternoon, they realized that none of people inside the country could see or post to the group anymore. for people outside china, everything appeared normal.

Rui Zhong 钟瑞, a U.S.-based writer, commented:

Starting to feel similar strain on conversations with folks in the diaspora and back in China within my networks as well, sadly.

Such stories are more and more common.

On the other hand

The chill has not yet been felt by many in China’s community of tech investors and entrepreneurs.

I believe China’s internet, AI, and biotech sectors will continue to defy stereotypes by throwing off cash and innovation as the government continues to repress free expression and squeeze civil society. Last week’s happy story, as reported by chronicler of mainstream Silicon Valley thought, Tech Crunch: The incredible rise of Pinduoduo, China’s newest force in ecommerce.

If I were an optimist, I might argue that we may have reached a point where a system of checks and balances that works in mysterious ways is about to restrain Xi Jinping. Might we see a late summer and autumn with a little intellectual and ideological breathing room in China? Consider the following:

George Washington University Law School professor and specialist in modern Chinese law Donald Clarke tweeted a link to this article (in Chinese), published by Hong Kong-based Initium, titled “Our current fears and hopes” (我們當下的恐懼與期待 wǒmen dāngxià de kǒngjù yǔ qídài).

Withering (and extremely brave) essay by Tsinghua Law’s Xu Zhangrun 许章润. I understand he’s in Japan now; I wonder if he plans on going back to China.

He mocks Xi’s authorial pretensions: “And then there are officials’ speeches: written by their secretaries and consisting of nothing more than bureaucratese, they actually get collected together and published, appearing with fine bindings and sent for free all over the world.”

“They are a total waste of paper; it makes people spit out their rice laughing. Here, we must not only think about why the persons involved are so retarded and vain.”

“We must also ask ourselves why a great country that has previously encountered this injury, including its various “theorists” and “researchers,” still has absolutely no resistance to it, and in fact is not short of those who would lick carbuncles and suck abscesses.”  

He also calls for reinstituting presidential term limits, public disclosure of officials’ assets, and reversing the verdict on June 4th.

And here’s another odd little rebellion, or oversight by the censors. He Weifang 贺卫方 is a  much-censored professor of political science and law at Peking University.

Susan Finder a.k.a. Supreme People’s Court Monitor noted that a 1998 essay of his “on media supervision of justice and freedom of press” was republished on WeChat. As of early Tuesday morning July 31 in Beijing, the article is still online on WeChat (in Chinese) and accessible in China.

The widening gyre

I present the anecdotes and facts above in the context of what has been a very strange few days for China watching:

  • The toxic vaccine scandal grinds on: Angry parents are protesting and demanding justice, while others are overwhelming Hong Kong’s private clinics by booking their children’s inoculations months in advance. See Jiayun’s summary below for more on this.

  • Completely unsubstantiated and non-credible rumors of a coup in Beijing were cast into a strange light when the People’s Daily headlined a front page: “Xi Jinping returns to Beijing.”

  • “…there is something different this year, an underlying anxiety that has not found its full political or social articulation” is how Sam Crane, a scholar of Chinese philosophy, religion, and politics, described his annual visit to Beijing this summer. There’s also a new Mao portrait hanging at Tiananmen, which Sam describes on Twitter as  “unworldly, unreal, artificially colored,” and “pretty creepy.”

  • “Lots of weird stuff going around on the China interwebs the past few days. Something’s up.” Thus tweeted Matt Schrader‏, editor of Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief. James Palmer, Asia editor of Foreign Policy‏, tweeted: “I think — and all this is guesswork – there’s some kind of genuine anti-Xi push going on inside the party right now, possibly led by older leaders concerned about the prioritizing of politics above economy.”

2. Vaccine scandal protests

According to a video shared on Twitter, a group of angry parents staged a protest in front of the National Health Commission on July 30, demanding legislation to guarantee the quality of Chinese vaccines and severe punishment for Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Ltd., as well as punishment for government officials involved.

“We want the government’s commitment of handling this matter properly,” they chanted while holding up banners reading “Please give justice to every victim.” In another clip, some police officers can be seen trying to maintain order while a woman shouts to a crowd of onlookers, “See, this is how we are oppressed as victims.”

In the meantime:

  • Some Hong Kong private clinics providing vaccines of foreign brands say they are fully booked by mainland parents for the next two months, the South China Morning Post reports. Many health care booking agents connecting anxious parents and clinics have reportedly doubled their fees amid mounting demand.

  • Hundreds of families who believe that their children are victims of substandard vaccines are uniting online, calling for the government to offer treatment to their affected children, according to the South China Morning Post.

  • China’s securities regulator, responding to the country’s worst public health crisis in years, issued some new regulations last week, which will expel companies producing fake vaccines or doing damage to the environment from the stock market.

  • More details regarding the scandal have been released. Chinese authorities discovered that Changchun Changsheng, the firm at the center of the scandal, used expired materials in vaccine production and fabricated data concerning experiments on mice.

—Jiayun Feng

3. #MeToo in badminton: two coaches, including former world champion

A 17-year-old female student-athlete came forward last week with allegations of sexual assault against Liu Jianjun 刘坚军 and Zhang Wei 张伟, two coaches of the municipal badminton team of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.

On July 26, the alleged victim shared her story (in Chinese) on Weibo under the name @孙孙向你扔了只狗. In the article, she said that Liu, a former world champion and now the head coach of the municipal team, first sexually attacked her when she was 14 and continued to molest her over the subsequent years. She said that Zhang, a former national team player, attempted to rape her when she was 14.

Click through to SupChina for more details.

—Jiayun Feng

4. Spies, bribes, and election experts

—Jeremy Goldkorn

Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief





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