Withstanding Censorship, US Embassy Provides an Enclave for Free Speech on Chinese Social Media

July 29, 2018 Last Updated: July 30, 2018

A vaccine scandal that broke out in China late this month, has led to a nationwide uproar followed by extensive efforts by the authorities to censor public opinion online—particularly on Twitter-like social media sites such as Weibo or WeChat.  

While the regime’s internet police regularly delete content the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deems political or socially sensitive, Chinese netizens have exploited something of a diplomatic loophole.

The Chinese authorities seem loathe to censor posts on the official Weibo page of the U.S. Embassy in China, making it a safe haven for Chinese users to discuss topics that would be redacted elsewhere.

Netizens have praised the U.S. Embassy’s comment page as an “enclave for the freedom of speech” and an “American territory” that enables them to express their candid—and typically negative—views of the CCP and its policies.

“This time, it is poisonous vaccines. What’s next? We have given up our hopes for this shameless regime. We hope America can strike the evil [regime] with its full strength,” commented a netizen with the screen name “moon110_203.”

“Please stop importing from China,” another user wrote, addressing the United States. “Our country is hopeless—even vaccines are counterfeit. The behavior of those people [who counterfeit vaccines] has reached an anti-human level.”

“This is a foreign embassy’s post about something totally unrelated [to the vaccine scandal], yet the comment space is filled with the Chinese people’s despair and hopelessness,” wrote Yang Tong, the editor-in-chief of a media company named “Yu Ji,” on his Weibo page.

In the last week of July alone, the Weibo account of the U.S. Embassy in China made 12 posts that featured content advocating for human rights and religious freedom.

On July 27, it posted the full “Statement on China by the U.S. State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, specifically urging China to stop its persecution of Falun Gong and other religious groups in China. Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that has been banned and heavily suppressed by the CCP since 1999, is one of the regime’s most taboo subjects. Words and phrases linked to the practice, including its alternate name Falun Dafa and its core principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance—are the most tightly censored words in Chinese cyberspace.

“As representatives of the international community, we are deeply concerned about the significant restrictions on religious freedom in China and call on the Chinese government to respect the human rights of all individuals. Many members of religious minority groups in China—including Uighurs, Hui, and Kazakh Muslims; Tibetan Buddhists; Catholics; Protestants; and Falun Gong—face severe repression and discrimination because of their beliefs,” the statement read.

While the majority of netizens use the platform to express their wishes to the U.S. government and their complaints they have about the Chinese regime, some use it as a source to get real, uncensored information and to “get a better understanding of the people and the society,” as one netizen put it.

“We are here to try out some freedom,” commented another netizen.