Commentary

How to tweet in Mandarin

How to tweet in Mandarin
Weibo has empowered the average Chinese to express an opinion and confront differing views. Photo: Reuters
Published: 4:02 AM, June 21, 2013
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Lunch had run late, and by the time we got back to our hotel, Hung Huang was already in the lobby waiting for us. Blunt, opinionated and wickedly funny, Huang is one of the country’s top fashion editors. But she is better known for her acerbic posts on Weibo, a microblog, where she has 7.5 million followers.

As we introduced ourselves — four journalists on a three-city tour of China — she passed around a picture that someone had texted her. It was a photo of President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China walking side by side. Mirroring that photograph was another image: Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, matching their stride and shape.

We all laughed uproariously. Huang planned to post it on Weibo.

Just then, though, an anonymous message on WeiChat — a new, peer-to-peer cousin to Weibo — arrived. It contained a warning said to be from the state news bureau.

“Please reinforce monitoring and management of all postings with regard to the Xi-Obama meeting,” it read. “Please clean up all attacks, riddles and comics.”

“I don’t even know if this warning is real,” Huang said. But she immediately decided not to post the picture. The risk that it crossed an invisible line — between commentary that was acceptable to the government and commentary that wasn’t — was too high. She looked at it again. “It is so benign,” she sighed.

THAT INVISIBLE LINE

It is nearly impossible today to visit China without hearing about the importance of Weibo, which was started in 2009 by Sina, a large, Shanghai-based Internet company, and which has since gained close to 600 million followers.

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