China’s queer internet is being erased


For Mei, logging into the WeChat account for his queer student society was habitual, like eating or sleeping. For six years, he helped run one of China’s most prominent groups. But on July 6, he signed in with trepidation; he’d heard that other societies’ profiles on the social messaging platform had been censored, and were now appearing as “unnamed accounts.” Minutes later, so was his. Across China, queer college societies, which had been rare spaces to safely push boundaries, were being swiftly erased from the Chinese internet. In July, 14 of the largest and most prominent accounts were banned, cutting connections between thousands of members scattered across the country and casting them adrift. Those hard-earned followings could take years to recover, and there was no way to restore an archive of their activities. No explanation was given for the ban. Since the early days of the internet, queer Chinese people have gravitated online; first, to connect under the safety of anonymity, and later to organize. For decades, China’s queer community has been faced with a central government that seems to neither support nor actively oppose LGBTQI people; local governments that refuse to register organizations; and state agencies that call to ban queer content and effeminate depictions of males. The internet was, by nature, muddy and borderless, a place where ambiguity worked in the queer community’s favor. Around him, people reacted with shock or anger, but Mei felt nothing. “I knew this day would come,” he said. He doesn’t think there was any single trigger for the sudden crackdown. Over the past few years, the school administration had applied increasing pressure on Mei’s society; online, nationalists had become increasingly vocal, decrying any non-mainstream behavior as a security threat.

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