The accounts of Health Insights (@八点健闻), a health and science-oriented digital news outlet, have been suspended across all Chinese social media platforms, notably WeChat and Weibo. Since coming online in 2019, the outlet had earned national recognition for its reporting. No reason was given for the censorship of Health Insights, but it would be far from the first science-focused outlet to run into political trouble. In 2021, the outlet PaperClip, best known for its popular explainer videos, was shut down after nationalists accused it of being “anti-China” and potentially infiltrated by “foreign forces.” The latter charge stemmed from a video collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund on links between meat consumption and deforestation. In 2022, censors suspended the health outlet DXY’s Weibo and WeChat accounts, which collectively had over 30 million followers. No reason for the suspension was given, but many speculated it was due to DXY’s criticism of Lianhua Qingwen, a herbal medicine invented in 2003 and touted by the state as a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment for COVID. DXY’s accounts have since been reinstated, although all its Weibo posts were deleted by censors this past weekend—perhaps due to DXY’s publication of an essay detailing how a mother supported her daughter’s gender transition. The post was censored in May but continues to circulate online.
Health Insights paid uncommon attention to the struggle of life under lockdown during China’s zero-COVID era, and a number of its reports on the subject were censored. A pathos-filled piece on the boredom and pain of dorm life under lockdown was taken down by WeChat censors, as was a piece that compared mass PCR testing in 2022 to the “Great Leap Forward,” a disastrous 1958 Maoist campaign that led to tens of millions of deaths. In 2022, CDT translated excerpts from a censored Health Insight piece on stranded truckers who described themselves as “captive animals” trapped in Kafkaesque local zero-COVID measures that embargoed free movement on Chinese highways. In 2023, censors deleted another of their articles on municipal and provincial government’s zero-COVID budgets.
The censorship of Health Insights comes amid a broader push to rewrite the memory of zero-COVID. At The Wall Street Journal, Wenxin Fan and Shen Lu reported on the government’s effort to craft a triumphant narrative about the three-year zero-COVID policy, which has included the censorship of official data, the suppression of individual memory, and heaps of propaganda:
One of the biggest questions—how many people died—remains unanswered, with the government restricting access to records that could help shed light on the issue. Official reports on the number of bodies cremated, normally released quarterly, disappeared or haven’t been updated on schedule in more than 30 provinces, cities or districts, a Wall Street Journal review found.
One city erased records going back to the beginning of 2020, the Journal found.
[…] A Shanghai resident who wrote about the continuing psychological effect from the lockdowns in a public post on WeChat in late March found out that his post was no longer accessible soon afterward.
[…] Ms. Guo, the social worker and feminist activist, says she was disappointed when she wandered along the Yangtze River before leaving China, and watched neon-colored propaganda slogans projected onto skyscrapers celebrating the “victorious” and “heroic” city. She said sadness welled up inside her when she heard a little girl reciting the slogans.“The girl might not understand what a lockdown meant for all of us,” she said, “but that’s just how the narrative gets twisted.” [Source]