My father is an ESL teacher at a Chinese college. He is a big fan of Newsy. He watches Newsy videos every day on his iPhone, reads the transcripts and takes down notes of the authentic English language expressions. He uses my mom’s iPad to discuss English grammar with me on QQ (the Chinese version of MSN) twice a week and he posts his English learning tips on his Weibo (Chinese version of microblogging, similar to Twitter) almost every day. My dad told me once that without his iPhone and Weibo, his life would be really dull.
Weibo, also called microblogging, is developing fast in China. There are three major networking operators that provide microblog service: Sina, Netease and Tencent (QQ). Just create a username and a password, and you can begin your Weibo journey. You can search and follow your friends, celebrities or public figures. Like Twitter the service allows you make posts in 140 characters, comment, reply and retweet other people’s posts. You can even “secretly follow” other people. Although Weibo shares some similarities with Twitter, it has its own characteristics.
In late March, Sina Weibo banned commenting for three days amid a high-level political crisis. It told its users that the commenting section of Weibo would be closed for three days. “Some tweets will be cleaned if necessary.” Sina Weibo's new regulations suspended a user for two days for posting content five or more times containing ‘politically sensitive’ words or images. If information is viewed as ‘malicious’, an account could be deleted.
This incident deprived Weibo of its unique commenting functionality, which is considered a yardstick of its popularity. Here’s an interesting post on Weibo regarding shutting down its comment section.
“I’m an ordinary person. Every day, I tried my best to write my post on Weibo, writing down my feels, my work and my life. But no one comments. On the other hand, one celebrity posted “one plus one equals two,” and there were three thousand comments. Another public figure posted “Today is a sunny day,” and there were four thousand comments. However, today, everybody is equal on Weibo because no one can comment today. Zero comment for my post and zero comment for the celebrities and public figures.”
The increasing popularity of Weibo shows that Chinese citizens desire to freely express themselves, to comment on their lives and their quickly changing society. The shutdown highlights how deeply internalized the government chilling effect is, citizens feel too weak to stand in confident opposition. Weibo has constructed a fragile environment for people to connect with opinion leaders but instances like this emphasize it’s limits.