Protests Stretch China’s Censorship to Its Limits

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He too shared videos of the protest on WeChat, though he deleted them after 24 hours in an effort to evade the authorities, who had begun to go after some demonstrators. Though only up shortly, his videos changed the minds of two people he had thought would be unreceptive: his parents.

“My parents, like many Chinese parents, used to think what I’m doing is meaningless and childish, but they have changed dramatically in the past two days,” Mr. Qu said. His parents now understand why he would participate in such gatherings, he said, perhaps in part because they too have struggled under Covid controls.

Despite the breakthroughs, some warned the censors will soon strike back, and may well recapture control of public opinion. Han Rongbin, a professor of media and politics at the University of Georgia who studies Chinese censorship, said that while he agreed the censors had been overwhelmed, their work, which has included pulling down huge numbers of posts and videos, has nonetheless been quite successful.

The goal of China’s censors isn’t necessarily to keep everyone in the dark, just enough to ensure the spread of protest can be stopped. “I still think it’s quite effective, in that there is still a large number of people who are not sure what’s actually going on,” he said.

After the wave of mass protests over the weekend, gatherings have been much smaller, in part as the authorities have smothered potential sites with heavy security. But a ramping up of censorship is also at play, Mr. Han said.

“If you look at things right now, it seems that the mobilization is cooling down,” he said.

Video production by Axel Boada and Muyi Xiao.