Società | 22.11.2017

Chinese Social Media and What Is/Isn’t Forbidden

Text by Elena Botti | Photos by Maxwell Mai
Maxwell, 21 years old from China, reveals in this interview some insights about Chinese social media.
Immagine: Maxwell Mai

During my Erasmus in Ireland, I met Maxwell. We were sitting next to each other during the “New Media, Language and Globalization” class, so we started discussing about it. Maxwell is 21 years old and comes from Foshan, in China. She explained how Chinese social media worked a gave a few insights.

Do you have Facebook?

Yes, I signed in the Facebook account when I was in high school in China.

Are you allowed to use it in China?

We can’t say it’s not allowed to use it in China since it’s not illegal and many people in China use it whenever they want to. It’s just we can’t connect it directly. We need to use something called VPN(Virtual Private Network). Usually, stable and efficient VPN(VPN pro) has to be paid (about 3 euro per month) and free VPN sometimes cannot connect during peak time. Most foreign trade companies will use professional VPN and for people who just wanna use Facebook, Instagram, Youtube from time to time, they choose to use the free VPN to see if it can connect. As for me, I sometimes will buy pro VPN for a month or two when I have to search information on Google for my work.

How to connect to the VPN

What do you think about the Western idea of Chinese government forbidding some websites to keep secret some information?

I can think of two reasons for that but there must be more. I heard that in Western societies people believe that the Chinese government wants to «control us» by forbidding websites. First of all, it’s actually hard for them to control or hiding information from us in such a new media environment we live in today. Indeed, there are some so called «sensitive topics» in China. For example, some people from Taiwan like to argue with people in China mainland about whether Taiwan is a part of China or not, or a small part of people from Hong Kong still like to advocate that Hong Kong will one day be independent, which is actually illegal to be disseminated according to the basic law in Hong Kong.
Another important reason for China to block the Internet is that our government wants to develop Chinese own media industry so to develop our economy. By blocking Facebook, twitter, Youtube, and Google, people in China will have to use our own social media, video website and searching engines. In equivalent to Google, we have several searching engines such as Baidu – the biggest one – Sogo, 360 and so on. In fact, these searching engines are not as good as Google in my opinion because they contain too much advertisement. In equivalent to Youtube, we have many more video website such as Youku, iQiyi, Tencent, Tudou and so on. All of these websites are designed for have their own features and also they are in competitive relation.

Are there other kind of apps similar to the Westerns, like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?

Yes, and there are more than one app.
As for chatting apps, different countries in Asia use different apps in equivalent to WhatsApp or Messenger. For example, in China most people use WeChat, which is now very developed with many new functions. In South Korea, people use Kakaotalk, and in Japan, people use LINE. However, we would still use WhatsApp, Messenger, or Skype to contact with friends from Western countries.
As for social media app, the most famous one that is in equivalent to Facebook in China is Weibo. Weibo means micro blogs in Chinese. In the past, people like to post their life moments on Weibo but as WeChat also has the platform for users to post their life moments, Weibo gradually becomes a platform for people to post some information as self-media but not as an individual.

For example, there are information about news around us, gym, healthy meal, shopping, fashion, makeup and so on. Also, since we cannot connect to Youtube if we don’t use VPN, some Weibo account will repost the videos, indicating the source information, and sometimes add the English-Chinese subtitles voluntarily. These Weibo accounts are usually popular.
So, if people in Western countries like to refresh Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat for a while after they wake up, most people in China will refresh WeChat Moment, Weibo, Instagram (which is now famous in China) instead!

What do you think of those apps? Do you like them better?

I like these apps since I can’t live without social media (like many people else!), and both Facebook and Weibo/Wechat Moment have their pros and cons according to my user experience. According to privacy, Facebook carries out the real-name system and the ‘mutual friend’ function. With this, we can browse and find out who you want to know easily with their names. However, some people might not like it because they don’t want everyone to know who their friends are. In Weibo, we can use whatever name we want. Sometimes we can see many funny names from different users, and people can’t easily found people without knowing their username.

What do you think of the use of new media in Europe?

I guess pretty much the same. Some people are addicted to it and will ignore their friends in real life, some are not.