Clubhouse broke the Chinese firewall. A people shone.


Clubhouse allows up to 5,000 users to join audio chat rooms that disappear when the conversation is over. Some users said its format inspired them to share personal stories and listen to different opinions. One user said in a censorship chat room that anyone can see that all of those people on the mainland who were labeled as dissidents, like pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, were real people. They no longer heard their voices filtered by the official media.

Since Saturday, I have spent almost all my waking hours wandering from one Clubhouse chat room to another. In one play, a documentary maker shared his thoughts on making a film about a subculture of young migrant workers, called Smart, who try to stand out in a conformist culture through wild hair and piercings. In another, a sociology doctoral student spoke about his experiences as a meal delivery boy. A group of feminists read works by feminist writers. More than 3,000 people have joined a chatroom dedicated to the parody of Hu Xijin, possibly the the Communist Party’s most infamous propagandist. (Favorite line: “As long as we have enemies everywhere, we have no enemies.”)

A chat room with over 100 people from Northwest China, where I’m from, focused on their interactions with ethnic minorities. A woman from Gansu Province shared how Muslims in her hometown were portrayed as troublemakers and how she learned to understand why it was offensive to hang the Chinese national flag in a mosque.

I learned of the de-Islamization of my home, Ningxia Muslim Autonomous Region, after several people shared testimonies. Jin Xu, assistant professor of art history at Vassar College who grew up there, explained how his drawing of Nanguan Mosque, a landmark in Ningxia, won a national award when he was in sixth grade and how brutally the mosque had been rebuilt in what he told me in an interview was an ugly concrete building that eliminated its exterior elements of Islamic art and architecture.

A chatroom asked attendees to criticize the government in which they lived, whether it was China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan or the United States. The moderator called out to each speaker asking, “So which government would you like to criticize?” In China, where open criticism is treated as betrayal, it looks like performance art.

Several chat rooms have been devoted to the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square, a subject heavily censored on the Chinese internet. Cai Chongguo, a student leader during the protests, spoke for about four hours, sharing his stories and answering questions from thousands of people. He said he hadn’t expected so many people to be interested.



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