On the morning of February 19, media consumers in China woke up to discover that Dàjiā 大家 by Tencent News, an opinion blog that has been around for eight years, was suddenly shuttered and had its entire archive of articles removed from the internet.
Since its launch in 2012, the blog occupied a unique place in the Chinese media landscape for publishing high-quality commentary on a wide range of topics, from international politics to domestic social issues and and pop culture. As a pioneering “self-media” publisher whose online presence was primarily built on WeChat, Dajia differentiated itself by cultivating a network of top-level bloggers and publishing relatively progressive opinion pieces.
The last piece Dajia published before the shutdown was a well-argued and deeply alarming article written by veteran Chinese journalist Chén Jìbīng 陈季冰, who criticized the Chinese media’s irresponsible and, at times, dangerously misleading coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak. Published on January 27, the article quickly accumulated hundreds of comments about the restrictions of press freedom in China before it was censored by media regulators. Shortly afterward, Dajia went dark.
Without any official explanation given by the blog, it remains unclear if the shutdown was caused by Chen’s controversial piece or by some other offense. Given that Dajia belongs to Tencent, which controls the WeChat platform, many people speculated that the internet giant pulled the plug on its own product to avoid a government response.
On the Chinese internet, the shutdown has drawn an outpouring of shock and sadness. “I am incredibly upset and it’s not necessarily because of how good Dajia’s articles are. I loved it because it offered a platform for different voices from writers with various backgrounds,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).
Jiǎ Jiā 贾葭, a well-known columnist who founded Dajia and left the publication in 2015, appeared to be one of the most disheartened. In a screenshot (in Chinese) that has been circulating across social media, he wrote:
“I created the slogan of Tencent’s Dajia, which is ‘Insight, value, and aesthetics.’ This is an editorial principle that’s hard to achieve and a scarce thing in China. I’m frequently asked by people: ‘Why do you keep pushing the boundary of freedom of speech?’ To which I say: ‘Only through this can we find out what we are, where we come from, and where we are going.’ Words with a conscience can document, describe, and explain major questions faced by us. Dajia was born for these major questions and it died for them as well.”