Got a Joke About Party in China? Jail Awaits.

November 18, 2012 4:16 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 11:50 am
A screenshot of the tweet that resulted in the detention of Twitter user @stariver. (

A 36-year-old financial worker who helps his daughter with her homework every night was taken away by Chinese security forces after he made a quip about the Communist Party’s recently concluded leadership conclave on Twitter.

Four days before the Party’s 18th Congress, when a new set of Chinese leaders was sworn in to rule China, Zhai Xiaobing mocked the event by suggesting it was the latest installment in the Final Destination film franchise. The 2000 supernatural horror movie depicts a teenager whose plane explodes, killing all but a few survivors, who then begin mysteriously dying. 

Zhai had the same plot line in mind for the Communist Party’s most important political event in a decade. In a Nov. 4 post he wrote: “Final Destination 6 will be in cinemas on November 6. The Great Hall of the People suddenly collapses, and only seven of the over 2000 people holding a meeting inside survive—but afterwards, they each die, one by one. Is it the game of God, or the fury of the Grim Reaper? How did the mysterious number 18 unlock the gate of hell? The earthshaking world premier opens on November 8!”  

Two days later the Twitter account went silent. 

Zhai had been accused of “spreading false and terrorist information,” and was taken away by security forces, according to netizen @iamhudi who called Zhai’s wife. The fact that he has been disappeared was later corroborated by two other individuals who visited the family’s house, according to Yaxue Cao, a writer and blogger who maintains contacts in China.  

Zhai’s family did not make news of his arrest public previously, assuming that he would be released at the conclusion of the Congress.

@iamhudi said Zhai was locked in the Miyun County Detention Center. A telephone call to the center on the evening of Nov. 18 in Beijing was terminated by the center’s staff as soon as the reporter uttered the term “foreign media.” 

Zhai Xiaobing used the Twitter identity @stariver. It is currently unclear how Chinese domestic security obtained his personal information. 

Twitter’s privacy policy states that “we may preserve or disclose your information if we believe that it is reasonably necessary to comply with a law, regulation or legal request.” The company did not immediately answer an email requesting comment. Chinese security forces may also have obtained Zhai’s information from domestic websites or monitoring procedures.

On Nov. 17, Wen Yunchao, a media personality in Hong Kong, launched an online petition demanding the Beijing Public Security Bureau immediately release Zhai. 

“We solemnly ask the Beijing police to show a little humor and not create a big incident out of a small issue,” the petition said. “In particular, do not destroy the public’s positive expectations of the new leadership right after the recently completed 18th Party Congress using such groundless restrictions and persecution of ordinary citizens’ freedom of speech.”

The petition began racking up signatures from Chinese and others inside the country and around the world.  

Chinese communist security agencies have previously handed down harsh punishments to netizens daring to joke about politically sensitive issues. The first “Twitter criminal,” as she was called, was Wang Yi, an activist who in 2010 mocked hypernationalist young people with the tweet “Angry youth, charge!” 

This was determined to be a case of “disturbing social order.” The punishment? One year of re-education in the Henan Women’s Labor Camp.

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