May 27, 2016


China's angry investors leap the Great Firewall--and are shocked by what they learn of Beijing (Zheping Huang, May 26, 2016, Quartz)

[R]ecently, hundreds of Chinese investors, who may be out $6 billion in one of China's biggest financial scams, have leaped over the Great Firewall in an organized, determined way. After being ignored by China's regulators and lawmakers, these desperate investors are pouring into Twitter to spread news of their plight.

While their numbers are small, their actions are already inspiring other Chinese investors burned in a monumental number of recent scams, turning Twitter into a new venue for angry Chinese citizens to protest. And as they leap over the Great Firewall, some are coming to a new realization--the government has been cracking down on free speech and civil protests just like theirs for years.

More than 300 investors in Fanya Metal Exchange, have become active Twitter users, mostly thanks to Cong, 30, a state bank employee in Shanghai. Like many Fanya investors, Cong asked not to reveal her full name for fear that the government would retaliate. Her case is also typical: She put her life savings, nearly one million yuan (around $150,000), into the exchange because she trusted the local government and state banks which endorsed it.

Cong rallied her fellow Fanya investors to join her Twitter initiative at the end of April. In less than a month, she had gathered hundreds in a WeChat group she set up. Most of them had never used Twitter before, and more than half are middle-aged, and not even active internet users. Most just know how to use chat apps like Weibo or WeChat. [...]

China's netizens have collectively jumped the Great Firewall before, but for very different reasons. In January, an army of Chinese trolls blasted the Facebook page of Taiwan's incoming president Tsai Ing-wen with anti-Taiwan comments and memes, for example.

Fanya's investors, though, would have been unlikely to try to go around Chinese censorship beforehand. "If this hadn't happened, I would never have learned to 'jump the wall,'" one investor named Tittizhush wrote on Twitter. "I used to live my nourishing life, but now... it's horrible."

What's more, they were unlikely to express "anti-China" opinions before--but now many do.

Like most upper middle class in China who enjoy a "nourishing life" in China (an often-used phrase that means much the same as "comfortable life") Fanya's investors didn't think much about freedom of speech, assembly, demonstration, voting rights, or democracy until they realized they needed them to recover their life savings.
After joining Twitter, Cong said she realized "unfair, unbelievable things happen in China every day." She keeps on reading posts about the government's crackdown on individuals' rights and civil society. "In the past I was optimistic about our country," she said. Now she writes in her Twitter biography, "I hate China, I want leaving here, go anywhere."

Gu, 50, who accumulated his fortune through his property business, invested seven million yuan into Fanya. More than four million yuan were bank loans, and he had to borrow money from his relatives to pay them back. "I spent the past year to understand the real China," Gu said of the government's crackdown on their protests to recoup their losses. "Otherwise I'd be still living in the world of CCTV news broadcast."

Gu said he only posts about Fanya, but reads about other civil rights movements including the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, on Twitter. He hopes to see China guarantee free speech and elections in the future. "After all, we, generation after generation, live in this place," he said. But if democracy remains beyond reach in China, Gu said, many investors, himself included, think that they or their children will have to emigrate.

Posted by at May 27, 2016 3:28 PM