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China: Bars app that often hosted dissenting conversations

Also China: This one guy sent feedback to the government online, it was adopted, that shows we’re a democracy

China has again banned a batch of apps, but this time it's taken action against a service – Douban – that's hosting opinions Beijing finds displeasing.

Douban is a social network that shares users' thoughts on movies, books, and music. It's frequently been controversial, as its users aren't afraid to give negative reviews – even of landmark Chinese productions with patriotic themes. The service has been embroiled in numerous controversies regarding censorship and has of late also been the subject of Beijing's ire for hosting fandom communities that turn toxic as factions fight over which pop star is more exciting.

The service was last week fined for unlawfully sharing user information. Yesterday, it was kicked out of China's app stores, along with a handful of apps that were deemed to be collecting too much personal data. Another 100-plus apps and services were also banned for various reasons.

All were told they had failed to rectify their problems with sufficient speed.

Douban's colourful past means its banishment leaves Xi Jinping's government open to accusations that it has acted to damage a source of dissenting opinion.

China, however, has spent the last week attempting to define its system of government as more democratic than those practised in the West. That effort was conducted ahead of the 2021 Summit for Democracy – an event hosted by the Biden administration with the aim of renewing democracy around the world.

One of China's pre-emptive ripostes to the event is a document [PDF] titled "Pursuing Common Values of Humanity – China's Approach to Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights".

The document offers one example of the internet enriching China's polity, after online consultation on the nation's 14th Five-Year Plan was allowed in 2020. The document reveals that at least one suggestion – offered by Li Dianbo, a college-graduate village official in Inner Mongolia's Dalad Banner region – was adopted by central authorities. Well, it's something.

With democratic participation achieving such cut-through, privacy protections seeing hundreds of apps banished during 2020, constant surveillance that has a chilling effect on dissent, and the Great Firewall ensuring unpleasantness doesn't reach local eyeballs, subjects of the Middle Kingdom are clearly enjoying freedoms of which the rest of us can only dream. ®

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