China’s WeChat is a site for social interaction, a form of currency, a dating app, a tool for sporting teams and deliverer of news: Twitter, Facebook, Googlemaps, Tinder and Apple Pay all rolled into one. But it is also an ever more powerful weapon of social control for the Chinese government.
I’ve just been locked out of WeChat (or Weixin 微信 as it is known in Chinese) and, to get back on, have had to pass through some pretty Orwellian steps – steps which have led others to question why I went along with it.
One reason is that life in Beijing would be extremely difficult without WeChat. The other is that I could not have written this piece without experiencing the stages which have now clearly put my image, and even my voice, on some sort of biometric database of troublemakers.
I was in Hong Kong to cover the enormous candlelight vigil marking 30 years since the People’s Liberation Army was ordered to open fire on its own people to remove the mostly student protesters who’d been gathering in and around Tiananmen Square for months in June 1989.
This moment in history has been all but erased from public discourse on mainland China but in Hong Kong, with its special status in the Chinese-speaking world, people turn out every year to remember the bloody crackdown.