China Power

Intellectual Microblog Exodus?

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China Power

Intellectual Microblog Exodus?

Leading academics have this month abandoned microblog Sina Weibo over free speech worries. Will more follow?

Sina Weibo microblog, China’s equivalent of Twitter, has seen its reputation take a hit with news that a number of leading academics and public intellectuals have declared that they no longer use the site because they believe new registration rules are too strict and that it is stifling freedom of expression.

Sina is one of China’s leading websites, and with more than 250 million registered users it is not only one of China’s largest online forums, but one of the most popular sites in the world.

Earlier this month, Prof. Zhang Ming, a well-known scholar of modern history at Renmin University (also known as the People’s University of China) announced on his Sina account that he was leaving the microblog.

I’ve listened to Zhang’s lectures, and he’s frequently outspoken and critical of those in power. Indeed, he’s a regular headache for the authorities – so much so that his colorful blog posts are reportedly regularly deleted by network administrators.

Yu Jianrong, another influential academic and head of the Rural Development Institute Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has also announced his departure from the microblogging world, citing the poor attitude of Sina administrators towards netizens.

And on January 16, another prominent academic, Peking University law professor and longtime commentator on judicial abuse He Weifang, said he wouldn’t be microblogging anymore, noting that a “few of his friends” had stopped blogging. More are expected to follow suit.

The departure of such renowned commentators has received little mainstream media attention, but Chinese netizens have continued to spread the news of their departure. Such moves are in part a reaction to news that some of China’s larger cities will lead the push to force micro bloggers to use their real names when registering. Indeed, cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have already started trials of real-name blog registration.

Critics argue that the reason officials want users to use their real names is that it will deter members of the public from openly criticizing the government. Officials counter that such rules are aimed at ensuring that malicious rumors aren’t spread that could undermine social stability. It’s ironic, though, that the effort to stamp out rumors has prompted talk that Sina was originally a “government organization.”

Regardless, the departure of such high-profile intellectuals from China’s microblogs is undoubtedly an embarrassment to the authorities, and a significant sign of dissatisfaction with the way Sina Weibo is doing things.