There’s increasing concern in China and worldwide about the detention of leading Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. Reports first surfaced on Sunday U.S. that Weiwei had been detained by China authorities, while at the Beijing Airport on his way to Hong Kong. Weiwei is a prolific Twitter user, but his account hasn’t been updated since Sunday (it’s also translated into english). CNN reported today that China’s ruling Communist party “unleashed a blistering attack” on both Weiwei and the West for criticizing the apparent arrest.
Many of China’s own citizens are voicing their concern on China’s leading Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo. To do this, users must creatively route around active censorship on Weibo.
British newspaper The Guardian wrote today:
On the Sina microblog, China’s domestic equivalent of Twitter, censors deleted many messages about Ai, and a search for his name produced a warning that results were not shown due to local regulations. But internet users fought back with typical ingenuity. Several used the words “ai weilai” or “love the future” – which looks and sounds similar to his name – to call for his return. One wrote: “I really don’t dare believe that in this society, even love for the future can disappear.”
Western readers probably aren’t familiar with microblogging in China, so here’s some background about Weibo and the current state of the market.
While Twitter is blocked in China, there are a number of popular microblogging services among Chinese Internet users. About a year ago I wrote here on ReadWriteWeb that Weibo, owned by the company Sina, was the most popular of these Twitter-like sites.
Asian tech analysis blog Penn Olson reported this week that Sina is in the process of spinning off Weibo as a separate entity, possibly leading to a future IPO.
Sina Weibo has grown from 50 million users in October to nearly 100 million today. It has 56.5% of the market share in microblogging services, according to iResearch. That’s well ahead of the second most popular service, Tencent’s Fanfou. The difference between Sina and Tencent becomes much more pronounced when looking at browsing time: iResearch puts Sina at 86.6% share.
Last year when I spoke to Chinese resident and Internet expert, Kaiser Kuo, he noted that the biggest difference between Weibo and Twitter is that the former is actively censored by the Chinese government. There is word filtering and Sina staff monitor the content.
Which brings us back to the sad news of Ai Weiwei being detained by authorities in China. It isn’t just people in the West making noise about it, as Chinese authorities perhaps would have us believe. As noted above, users of Sina Weibo are finding creative ways around censorship to make their feelings known.
Free Ai Weiwei
I was honored to meet Ai Weiwei in New York City last March, at an event that included Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he came across as a very warm-hearted and curious person. He wanted to know all about what I do, even though he’s achieved much more than I have. Then during the discussion on stage, it became clear that he’s both very brave and always keen to challenge the status quo. He probes for the truth in whatever he says or does.
We here at ReadWriteWeb join Sina Weibo users in wishing for the safe return of Ai Weiwei to his home. You can follow Weiwei’s Facebook Page to monitor news and express your own feelings about his detention.