David Wertime

China's Twitter Comes Roaring Back After Government Blackout

Talk about pent-up demand.

The word "comment" is mentioned in over 100 million recent tweets, with over 1,000 new such tweets already unread

On the morning of Tuesday, April 3, Sina and Tencent Weibo, China’s most popular microblogs, were allowed to re-open the threaded “comment” function– the microblogs’ heart and soul — after three days of government-ordered blackout. And netizens have responded by the millions to express their thoughts and breathe a collective sigh of relief. 

For one day, the pessimists can put fear in their back pocket. Weibo has come roaring back, and with a level of enthusiasm that simply defies belief. A recent search for the term “comment” (“评论” in Chinese) yielded 100 million tweets. That’s not a misprint. Thousands of tweets on this subject alone are pouring onto the platform, as if a dam had just burst. 

Famous blogger Han Han, who has made a recent resurgence on Weibo, offered his take, writing,

“[The blackout] has nothing to do with cleaning up rumors, it’s about showing off state power and serving a warning: If I can make comments disappear for three days, I can also make you lose your little Weibos altogether. This country suffers from the spread of rumors and false accusations because authorities educate the masses to believe whatever they see, and listen to whoever is speaking, without asking that extra question and without thinking one level deeper. The natural outcome  is a proliferation of rumors, and everyone is hurt.” {{1}}[[1]] 其实无关治理,纯属炫权和警告,意思就是我能让你三天不见萍儿,我就能让你永远失去小微。这个国度经常出现谣言之害和被诬之苦,就是因为官方一直在教育民众看了就得信,说了就得听,不要多问一句,不要多想一层。结果自然是谣来谣去,一起倒霉。[[1]] 

As of this writing, that tweet has garnered over 36,000 comments. [Update: as the Wall Street Journal has reported, Han Han's tweet was subsequently deleted after garnering an eventual 60,000 comments.]

One simple word in Chinese--"Comment"--can mean so much.

Wang Ran (@王冉), CEO of a private equity firm, tweets:

“Hundreds of millions of people’s mouths got duct taped. When the duct tape was taken off, everyone says it feels good, but after feeling good should we ask: Why was my mouth taped? If we don’t get to the bottom of this, there will always be a roll of duct tape next to everyone’s mouth, and perhaps next to that roll of duct tape there is also a large stapler.” {{2}}[[2]] 好几亿人被用胶带封了半张嘴,胶带撕去后,所有人都说好舒服。舒服之后我们是不是该问问了:凭什么往我嘴上贴胶带?这事不问清楚,每个人嘴边随时都有一卷胶带在等待。没准胶带旁还有一个大号的订书机。[[2]]

But the greatest enthusiasm appeared at the grass roots, not among famous microbloggers who never lost their voice. Netizens spoke as if awaking from a winter, or a bad dream. @金在中是这个世界上最美好的存在 wrote, “The weather’s not bad; I can comment.” @宋玉青—易百装饰 exulted, “It’s probably the way someone feels after they were framed, locked up for years, then suddenly released. This is a historical moment, later people won’t understand, but you understand! Give a few shouts!” 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.