Clubhouse audio chat defies Beijing’s censorship

Taboo topics like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are freely discussed. The invitation-only app is available only through foreign IDs. The authorities will likely target it soon. In China, repression continues. Police arrest the girlfriend of Xu Zhiyong, leader of the New Citizens Movement.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio-chat social networking app, is gaining grounds in China.

Chinese netizens can use it to discuss issues deemed taboo by China’s communist regime, such as Taiwan's independence, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, and repression of Muslims Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Launched last year in the United States by two hi-tech gurus from Silicon Valley, Clubhouse is an audio-chat app that enables users to exchange voice messages with a high level of privacy.

Its chat rooms can only be accessed after receiving an invitation code. Initially, these codes were made available only to American celebrities, but eventually participation was extended to a less “elitist” audience.

Thanks to the recent entry of Elon Musk, founder of Tesla electric cars, the app received a boom in requests. It is not available in China’s Apple Store, but can be accessed via overseas Apple IDs. Invitation codes can cost up to 330 yuan (US$ 50).

Analysts who have accessed the app to observe its discussions note that they are very free and less confrontational than on other more popular social networks, ostensibly because its users are better educated that average.

Some experts expect Clubhouse's growing success in China will also bring about its demise, as state censorship will soon move against it.

It is inconceivable that the Communist Party of China will allow such a forum of debate, while Facebook, Twitter and Google are banned. One of the most debated issues in its chat rooms is when Beijing will ban it.

Over the past year, the government has stepped up its crackdown on dissent during the coronavirus pandemic. The latest act of abuse took place yesterday, when the authorities arrested Li Qiaochu, the girlfriend of human rights activist Xu Zhiyong. Imprisoned a year ago for “inciting subversion”, the leader of the New Citizens' Movement now faces 11 years in prison for “subversion against state power”.

Friends and acquaintances told Apple Daily that they are convinced Li was arrested for making public the torture suffered in prison by some political prisoners. After her arrest, her partner Xu complained, for example, that prison authorities deprived him of sleep for 10 days.