The suspension has been met with a gleeful social reaction among nationalist bloggers, who accuse DXY of receiving foreign funding, bashing traditional Chinese medicine, and criticizing China’s healthcare system.
DXY is one of the frontrunners in China’s digital health startup scene. It hosts the largest online community for Chinese doctors to discuss professional topics and socialize. It also provides a medical news service for a general audience, and is widely seen as the most influential popular science publication in healthcare.
“I think no one, as long as they are somewhat related to the medical profession, doesn’t follow these accounts [of DXY],” says Zhao Yingxi, a Chinese global health workforce researcher and PhD candidate at Oxford University, who says he followed DXY’s accounts on WeChat too.
But in the increasingly polarized social media environment in China, healthcare is becoming a target for controversy. The fact that people immediately concluded that DXY’s demise was triggered by its foreign ties and critical work illustrates how politicized health topics have become in China.
Since its launch in 2000 DXY has raised five rounds of funding from prominent companies like Tencent and venture capital firms, and even that commercial success has caused it trouble this week. One of its major investors, Trustbridge Partners, raises funds from sources like Columbia University’s endowments and Singapore’s state holding company Temasek. After DXY’s accounts were suspended, that fact was unearthed by bloggers to retroactively try to back up their claim that DXY has been under foreign influence all along.
Part of the reason why the suspension is so shocking is that DXY is widely seen as one of the most trusted online sources for health education in China. During the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, it compiled case numbers and published a case map which was updated every day, becoming the go-to source for Chinese people to follow covid trends in the country. DXY also made its name by taking down several high-profile fraudulent health products in China.
It also hasn’t shied away from sensitive issues. For example, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in 2019, it published the accounts of several victims of conversion therapy and argued the practice is not backed by medical consensus.
“The article put survivors’ voices front and center and didn’t tip toe around the disturbing reality that conversion therapy is still prevalent and even pushed by highly ranked public hospitals and academics,” says Darius Longarino, Senior Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center.