Weibo’s power people

CHINA | Weibo’s power people

China overview   |   Dodging censors

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 2.26.55 PMWhat is Weibo?

Weibo is a micro-blogging forum used by a wide range of people in China – from students in Beijing to businessmen in Kunming. Some post to vent local grievances; others use Weibo to organize protests, though censors are quick to remove such postings. Many use Weibo just like Americans use Facebook – to post photos, recipes they like, or funny cat videos. We chose to follow three people on Weibo: Dong Lu, Cui Weiping, and Zhang Xin. Each of them uses Weibo for different reasons – whether it’s political or promotional, and each has a large audience of loyal Weibo followers.

Weibo username: Dong Lu
Followers: 5.6 million
Location: Beijing
Motto: Love means sacrifice. Happiness is internal satisfaction.

Dong Lu

Dong Lu was a China Central Television (CCTV) sports anchor and soccer commentator known for openly criticizing CCTV and local government officials. Most recently, he criticized several journalists associated with CCTV for being too pro-government. Dong began as a reporter for a Beijing radio station and later shot to broadcast fame as a CCTV anchor.


Dong was suspended from his job as a TV host 10 times in the last 20 years because of critical comments about state-run sports. Once, he made negative comments about a local soccer team that his TV station had endorsed, and he was subsequently fired. After being rehired in 2001, Dong pushed his journalistic boundaries further by publishing an article that revealed corruption inside China’s national sports administration. He was indefinitely barred from working in broadcast.

Dong’s final act as a journalist, which garnered disapproval from groups all over China, was his criticism of CCTV reporter Chai Jing. In early 2013, Dong accused Chai of manipulating facts in a broadcast she did about social injustices. Chai’s show, Witness, aims to expose government corruption, but Dong said she was too soft and acted as a puppet of the government’s propaganda campaign. Since Dong’s departure from CCTV, he is now a popular singer and guitarist for a Chinese folk band.

Earlier this year, Dong took to his Weibo account to criticize public intellectuals and commentators who work for the government. To dodge the eyes of government censors, Dong posts the popular “Grass Mud Horse” music video, which went viral in 2009 and is used by dissidents across China to criticize the government.

Read more on how the “Grass Mud Horse” video is used to get around censorship.

Weibo username: Beijing Cui Weiping
Followers: 116,382
Location: Beijing
Motto: You don’t need a lot of courage. All you need is a tender conscience.

 Cui Weiping

Cui Weiping is a Beijing Film Academy professor and well known critic of the Chinese government censorship. In the spring of 2010, Cui had planned to travel to the U.S. to participate in a conference hosted by the U.S.-based Association for Asian Studies. Her visit was to include a lecture at Harvard University. But the Chinese government barred Cui from leaving the country.

Cui told the New York Times the government said she could not leave the country because she had to teach classes in Beijing. But Cui said the real reason for the travel ban was because of her advocacy work for freedom of expression. Cui is known for her blog, even though it has been inactive since October 2011, presumably because the government blocked access to it within China. One of Cui’s last blog postings was a detailed list of Chinese activists who had attempted to travel out of the country but were blocked by authorities, just as she had been a year earlier. Another of her last blog postings was titled “silent strength is everywhere.” In it, she praised Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Price laureate jailed for his advocacy work on human rights. Cui also used her Twitter account before it was blocked in 2009 to write about Liu Xiaobo’s poetry and his 1996 secret wedding to Liu Xia, another artist-dissident.

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With her blog apparently blocked and Twitter now banned in China, Cui uses her Weibo account to continue her advocacy work, though she is on the government censors’ watch-list. On April 9, Cui published a Weibo post criticizing the government for canceling the Yunnan Film Festival, which she said demonstrated the “suppression of all space for cultural exploration and the killing of our country’s soft power.” As of May 10, her Weibo posting was still public and had comments from over 200 people.

Weibo user Shen Hongguo recently posted an anonymous article about Cui’s speech at Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi’an, China. The speech was about constitutional change and the freedom of expression – very sensitive topics on Weibo. However, Hongguo posted the speech as an image instead of text, thus making it difficult for censors to track.

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In this Weibo post, Cui critiques social hierarchy in China: “The first question for modern Chinese society is: Which one should win? Social status or rational thought? Should we use reason to think, or act like slaves and subject ourselves to the ‘authority of social status’?”

Weibo username: Zhang Xin
Followers: 5.8 million
Location: Beijing
Motto: SOHO China CEO

Zhang Xin is the CEO of SOHO China, a commercial real estate developer based in Beijing. Born in Beijing in 1963, Zhang attended university in the United Kingdom until 1992 and worked in finance for several years in the U.S. afterwards. She returned to China to found SOHO China in 1995 with her husband, Pan Shiyi, another real estate mogul. Zhang Xin today is known as one of China’s most prominent and accomplished female business leaders. In March, Forbes put her net worth at 3.6 billion dollars.

In a March interview with CBS’ 60 minutes, Zhang drew international attention when she criticized “widespread corruption in China” and endorsed open market economic reforms. Zhang even said that “everyone [in China] craves democracy,” and she predicted that China would embrace democracy within the next 20 years. Whether or not she received flak from the government for this comment, we do not know. Undoubtedly, though, someone without Zhang’s power and influence would avoid talk of democracy. Even though Zhang Xin’s celebrity status as a real estate tycoon gives her more leeway to speak out, political remarks condemning the China regime are rare among business leaders.

But criticizing the Chinese government during an interview with an American news outlet (which would not be seen in China) is one thing. Zhang is not as outspoken on her Weibo account. She has publicly stated that Weibo is a useful tool for business leaders to promote their companies and learn about what is going on in China, and she prides herself on posting once or twice a day for her millions of followers. But most of her posts (see example below) are tame in comparison to those of the country’s best known political dissidents. Zhang said in an April interview with Forbes, “I have no agenda, I’m just speaking truthfully.”

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In this post, Zhang Xin praises the government’s efforts in providing food for children in public school. The post says that every student receives one egg and one carton of milk. Despite of remarks she makes while abroad and away from China, which call for democracy, Zhang patronizes the government’s social policies through Weibo’s public forum.





Coleen Jose, Wenxiong Zhang and Katie Campo reported on China.