Editor’s note: This is a translation of a story about a Chinese painter based in Italy who became a critical source of information for many in China during recent protests against the country’s zero-covid policy. Find the English language version here.
Over the past week, as protests against China’s new crown epidemic prevention policytook social media by storma twitter account@李老师 is not your teacher It has become a “distribution center” for various relevant information sources. People from all over China have sent protest videos and real-time news through private messages, and the account helps contributors hide their identities and publish these messages anonymously.
There is only one person behind the account: Li (everyone calls him Teacher Li), who asked to be identified by his last name only for security reasons. He’s a Chinese painter living in Italy and has never worked in journalism, but that hasn’t stopped him from turning his Twitter account into a one-man newsroom.
Protests against the new crown zero policy reached their peak on the last weekend of November. Teacher Li received more than a dozen private messages every second. information. Even though he’s been posting anonymous private messages from his followers for the past year, it’s been a different experience for him, too.
For a long time, he has been paying attention to and talking about social problems in China online. In 2021, he began to receive private messages on Weibo. These people were worried about exposing their identities and hoped to release the information through him.
But then his posts began to be censored and deleted; by February of this year, his account was banned. In the following two months, 49 more accounts were banned. But his followers graciously let him use his mobile phone number to register more accounts (to post information). In April this year, he was banned from Weibo, so he switched to Twitter. It was also on Twitter that he received the attention of a large number of international accounts and Chinese users who bypassed the wall to access Twitter.
Workers and management at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou last weekConflict broke out, Teacher Li began to follow the development of the situation through the information provided by Chinese social media and his followers. That night, he only rested for 3 hours.
By the weekend, more protests had erupted in China’s major cities. Teacher Li once again began to post real-time protest video recordings, hoping to help people in China understand the information and decide whether to participate; on the other hand, tell people overseas what is happening in China. “Let everyone feel that although I am in various parts of the world at this moment, this thing is happening, and I am watching it,” Teacher Li said.
His Twitter account has now become a hub for information about the protests, attracting more than 600,000 followers in the past week alone.
But he also has a price for what he does: mentions of his account name on Chinese social media platforms (such as Weibo, WeChat, etc.) are censored. He has also received death threats in private messages, and police have visited his home in China.
But mixed with anxiety and a sense of liberation and freedom, Teacher Li felt that he could finally speak out about Xi Jinping on social media without fear. He also joked that his Twitter profile picture is a doodle of a cat, which has become perhaps the most famous and dangerous cat ever.
In a long talk earlier last week, Mr. Li described to me what he was doing, the enormous pressure he was under, and the difficulty of remaining objective. What he was doing took up almost all of his non-rest time, and he later had to force himself to rest on Monday, which also led to a fortuitous encounter.
The following is his story told by Mr. Li himself. The rest of this article has been slightly edited and reorganized for clarity. ——Zeyi Yang
Megaphone of the Terror
For this account, in essence, it is the same as many ordinary users of Twitter. It just posts some topics about life, some topics about my profession, and of course, some social issues are also included.
But this account actually carries another function. I don’t know when it started, gradually I started to receive private messages and submissions, and people would post something that was happening or something about themselves, and then hoped that I would post it for them. I think this may also be a situation that began to emerge from the Chinese Internet, or after Xi Jinping came to power, this kind of increasingly intense network control or speech control. People dare not directly say these things on the Internet, even if they are anonymous. But they also want to express, so they want someone else to speak for them.
It’s the same on Weibo. I may have only a few thousand or 10,000 fans at first, and then gradually everyone finds out that this person can talk, and then they come to me. It started with the “mother of eight children” incident in Fengxian County, Xuzhou. At that time, I helped a person to publish content (he wanted to find his sister). The content should have been reposted more than 30,000 times on Weibo, and then my account exploded. up. After my account was bombed, I continued to create new accounts, and then I was basically bombed all the time in those few months. I bombed 50 accounts in about two months. My fastest time is to fry one in ten minutes. As soon as you blow up my account, I will immediately build one.
My fans, I don’t know how they can find me immediately, and then more than 10,000 people follow me back in an instant. Then until they seemed to find the website selling accounts and blow up that website, I couldn’t find the account anymore.
At that time, I was actually very moved during that process, because you need a mobile phone number to verify on Weibo, but a large number of netizens lent me their mobile phone numbers and said, “It’s okay, Teacher Li, you just use it. I’ll use my mobile phone number to verify, it doesn’t matter.” It was also something that touched me very much. Later, there was no account at all, and I had no choice but to come to Twitter.
My Twitter account was created in 2020, but I actually only switched to Twitter in April of this year.From the very beginning, the latest news (with fans) will be sent to me. I don’t know why, but there are always people who are at the scene of the news, and then they can send it to me immediately, including(October) Shanghai holding white bannersthat thing. Slowly, the number of fans increased.
Before I reported the Foxconn incident, I had about 140,000 followers; after the report, it rose to 190,000; I don’t know how many thousands it is now. (Editor’s note: Teacher Li’s Twitter account had 670,000 fans at the time of the interview, and it has exceeded 780,000 as of press time.)
News broadcast room carried by one person
These days, I can only sleep about five hours, and the rest of the time is all on (Twitter). No one else but myself, not even my girlfriend involved.
In fact, the longest day of my online time was not these two days, but the day of the Foxconn conflict. Because that thing is (changing) too fast, if they don’t stop, I can’t stop. I never thought about it, anyway, this matter has nothing to do with me, or just go to sleep, I never thought about it.
Urumqi FireThis incident actually aroused everyone’s empathy. The fire is indeed a pain in everyone’s heart, because everyone is sealed at home and cannot go out. And including every similar social incident before, no matter whether this incident has anything to do with the government, it will block (public opinion). Then in the middle of shutting up again and again, people start to get angry. There is always a fuse, which event is the fuse, even if it is not today, it may be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
I thought(November) Protests in Xinjiang on the night of the 26thIt is a page loaded in history, and it turns out that it is only the beginning of history.
especially when protesters yellSitong BridgeWhen I heard those slogans, I thought to myself: It’s over, people shouting these slogans in the center of Shanghai, this will be a very, very serious matter. At this time, it is necessary to record it with a neutral and objective attitude, because if not, even on Twitter, it may disappear soon. My thinking is, I’m going to pick up the baton right away, and I’m going to start automatically.
Immediately afterwards, there is a feeling that is difficult to describe, that is, all of you gather together, all kinds of information from all over the world gather, and then tell you: Hey, what happened here; hey, what happened there; Do you know, we are also like this in Guangzhou; I am now in Wuhan, and Wuhan is like this now; I am now in Beijing, and then I am walking with the big troops…
It was just that all the real-time information came to me suddenly, and I don’t know how to describe that feeling. But there was no time to think about it. The heart beats very fast, and then the hands and brain are constantly switching several software. Because you know that Twitter has no way to save videos directly from the website, so you keep switching software, editing videos, exporting, and posting them on Twitter. (Editor’s note: Teacher Li will add subtitles to the video, hide the original author’s information, and edit multiple short videos together) There is no time to edit the video later. A 12-second WeChat video, he took it and sent it, and then I will use it directly, that’s it, I don’t have time to think about it.
(Private message frequency) The highest time should be around 6 pm on Sunday. At that time, there were five major cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Guangzhou, and there were a lot of people on the streets at the same time. So I’m basically getting a dozen messages per second. In the end, I couldn’t screen the information anymore. I just saw it, I clicked on it, and then this matter was worth posting, so I posted it.
Netizens all over the country are telling me about this real-time situation. In order to prevent more people from being in danger, they went to the (protest) scene in person and then told me the situation at the scene. Including some netizens riding shared bicycles, passing by the Nanjing Presidential Palace, and then riding while taking pictures. After taking pictures, they told me about the situation in Nanjing, and then told me to make everyone be careful. I think it is indeed a very touching thing.
So far, I have gradually become a “studio anchor”, which means that live “reporters” all over the country continue to send me feedback. For example, in Hangzhou on Monday, five or six people kept sending me the latest news at the same time. Of course, there was a pause in the middle, because everyone was on the run when the venue was cleared.
The importance of being objective
There will be lots and lots of embellishments on Twitter. From their point of view they think it’s right, they think you have to arouse as much anger as possible before there will be resistance. But for me, I think we need real information, we need to know what really happened, that’s the most important thing. If we say that we are for emotions, then in the end I will really become “Foreign forces“Is it?
If there is a channel on the external network that can objectively, real-time, and accurately record these things at any time, then for the people inside the wall, they will be sure of this matter. In the current situation of extreme news blockade, there is an account that can continuously post various news from all over the country at a speed of almost a few seconds. In fact, it is also an encouragement for everyone.
Chinese people grew up with patriotism, so they are more timid, or they don’t dare to directly say something or directly oppose something. In fact, everyone sang the national anthem, raised the red flag, and raised the national flag during the protest. You must understand that the Chinese are patriotic, so they naturally come to ask the government for something with this feeling. So they are willing to contribute to me, because they know that I am neutral, objective, and truthful in reporting this matter. But for other people, they dare not vote; what if it is really used by foreign forces, as the domestic people say, right?
It can be said that they want to oppose, but they are not so absolutely opposed, they hope to have a compromise point. So I’m actually the middle point. I will report what happened, but I only report things, I will not say a word. Maybe that’s why I became this center, and of course, my becoming this center also has something to do with the content I keep posting.
So I try to report as much information as I have, but it is very difficult to do this now because there are too many submissions. Maybe one thing, I need several shots from different angles before I can confirm it. For example, there were rumors last night that there were shootings in Wuhan, Chengdu, and Xi’an, but I couldn’t find any videos to verify, so I didn’t post them in the end. Therefore, some netizens on Twitter will think that I may be deliberately covering up some police mistakes.
So now there are some embarrassing situations, that is, domestic people think that I am instigating these things, but people abroad think that I am a big propaganda, which forms a very contradictory point. When you choose to stand in the middle, you are definitely under pressure from both sides, but that’s okay.
Coping with confusion and falsehood
And I basically don’t have time to think, basically one message in a few seconds, one message in a few seconds; then the messages are very fast, very messy, and I send some very repetitive videos. There are also many videos that were sent directly from me, and then he sent them back to me from somewhere in the circle of friends. Maybe this one is Beijing, the next one is Guangzhou, and the next one is Shanghai. They couldn’t immediately know if I posted this video, so he sent it to me again. For example, he always sent me the previous video at 9:00, and then he sent it to me at 12:00. He thought this was the situation at that time.
Perhaps the fake video that was submitted to me the most tonight is a video of a police car running over people under an overpass. I should have watched it sixty or seventy times. They all said it was under the four-way bridge or something, but in fact It is a foreign video. Many people are willing to believe these videos, (in fact) they just want to believe that a big news happened.
The bigger crisis I encountered on Monday morning was that I didn’t know who it was or if it was from (the Chinese government), and they kept sending me fake news. It’s just that there are some news that happened in the wrong place, and there are some news that can be known to be false at a glance. Maybe they want to beat me from that aspect.
Although in private messages, people constantly want me to appeal, and people constantly want me to summarize slogans or release slogans, or post what everyone should do, but I have never broken through that line. Because I think everyone has their own “task”, and my task is to report this matter. If I joined in (protesting) out of the blue, I was actually directing, and I wasn’t there. If people really died, then the blood debt is actually on my head, because I ordered them to go. So I don’t think it should be like this, I can only report.
But I think that in the end, the hat will definitely be on my head, even if I don’t do this, I will be considered to be doing this in the future.
So if I can always guarantee independence, it may be a candle, it may be a torch, just stand there.
mental stress at work
I just graduated from graduate school. Strictly speaking, I am just a fresh graduate, right? So it was being pulled into this all of a sudden that made me suddenly become this character. I don’t feel anything. In fact, to put it bluntly, it is more worrying, just not knowing what will happen to me. I will also be very scared, whether one day when I cross the road, a car will suddenly hit me, causing a traffic accident or something. It’s more that when I turn off the computer, I have some worries, but when I sit in front of the computer, I don’t have time to think about myself.
I mainly feel that it is tiring, only today, I am forced to give myself a day off. Normally, I’m basically just sitting there, and from the beginning, and then until the end, I hardly ever get up.
But today, I started to receive some threats, and then my psychological pressure will be greater. I have to be afraid, you have seen so much, you know so much. So today, I forced myself to take a vacation. It’s not a holiday, it’s just going down for a few laps, and then it takes a long time.
Today is also pretty amazing.
I did get a death threat last night, I don’t know who it was, he was just saying “we already know where you are, just wait.” I didn’t get to take a screenshot because it was so fast It was covered by other news. I glanced at it, and the news disappeared immediately, but it was really hanging in my heart at the time.
Then when I went out to buy cat food this morning, I checked the cat’s eyes repeatedly to see if anyone was outside my house. Then along the way, I kept checking to see if there was this person standing guard on the road or what, if they could really find me. When I came back, there was a constant movement in the stairs, and then I put things at the door, and I stood in this peephole and waited for ten minutes, but I didn’t see anyone. Later, I thought in my heart that this is not the way, I have to let him go. What I thought at the time was that I would directly start the live broadcast and find him, and then let him go. It actually turned out to be no one, it was a very small, small, small cat who suddenly hid there for some reason, and then I brought him home, and now my girlfriend is feeding him. Anyway, it feels weird. I’m considering whether to call it Urumqi.
I forgot if it was because Xi Jinping has always felt aggrieved since he came to power. I just feel that all these years, in order to be able to speak, I have been constantly and repeatedly examining myself, and I have always been cautious.
Then yesterday, suddenly I was not afraid anymore. I didn’t have time to think about it, so I kept posting it. To put it simply, when they shouted “Xi Jinping step down”, they suddenly felt indifferent. I can report this matter, and I dare to type these words. They dare to shout, and I dare to fight, such a feeling.
You know what these three words mean when you type them out, it’s a completely different concept. At that moment, I suddenly felt that I was dead, alive, liberated, and wronged. It was a very, very complicated feeling.