China: Ethnically diverse forum shut down

[Sept. 6 update:
Northwest Chinese netizens allowed to exist again! Thanks to Fool's Mountain we see that Uighur Online is back and living up to its name.]

On May 15, Uighur Online, the main online forum serving to bridge the huge communication gap between China's Muslim population, other minority ethnic groups, and Han Chinese, was shut down.

All that remains now of Uighur Online, courtesy of

As is the norm in China, no reason is given for website closures, just an order. All that can now be found at the site or its sister site Uighur Biz are instructions on how to donate to Chinese Red Cross, and this message:

Friends of all ethnic groups,

Hello everyone! It is with extremely heavy hearts that we hereby notify you that due to those reasons that everyone knows, Uighur Online has been closed.

Thank you everyone for your constant support, care and help for Uighur Online, and even more thanks to the members of the management team, the BBS webmasters, the editors, columnists, experts and the academics who have put so much into Uighur Online. In the two short years that Uighur Online has been around and with the efforts of a multi-ethnic management team, the site receives on average around one million pageviews per day, with tens of thousands of registered users. With all the people we've come to know and friends we've made from many different ethnic groups, our understanding of each other has both broadened and deepened. Uighur Online provided grassroots communication channels between different ethnic groups, allowing for conversations and discussions which, we firmly believe, were quite meaningful.

E-mail contacts for written contributions to the site:

Uighur Online
May 15, 2008

The well-known Uighur Biz blogger on adds that the “Harmonization Department” which “cares for” these things was responsible for the closure; one reader there speculates on the reasons for Uighur Online's closure writes:

The government's closing of Uighur Online as a way to restrict speech is extremely unwise, because regardless of how much noise was being made on Uighur Online, they are after all still representative, and [the site] advocated for openness, for discussion, for communication, and for learning from Uyghurs in the West (Kazakhs…). Uighur Online's closure stands to be a major watershed; the shutting down of channels that stood for communication and discussion just means that all the more people now will choose to cut themselves off, refuse to communicate, or even choose underground activities. People inland have lost the window which led straight to understanding what Uyghur people are thinking, and now will have no choice but to turn to research papers from those academics in the ivory towers to better understand the public sentiment there.

From Baidu to Bullog to small local BBS forums, the response has been strong, but it too is being silenced. On May 19 this post already had six pages of comments; on May 20 it is somehow now down to just four pages.

What surprises many Uighur Online users is that the website was even properly licensed, the excuse most often used by authorities to shut blogs and BBS websites down. Indeed, the ‘Crowd of Spectators Out of Control’ blogger, who writes about Xinjiang culture, mentions in a post late last month a conversation s/he had with the Uighur Online webmasters, retelling the absurdities the staff there went through recently in trying to report one UO user for inflaming racial hatred within the forums, and being kicked around like a football from police department to police department in Beijing and then back to the local internet supervision office, with none of them willing to address the situation.

Not to be mistaken as a sign of authorities’ unwillingness to punish people for alleged hate speech. Uighur Online's attraction was in that it tolerated occasionally offensive and hateful opinions as valid parts of discussion; its closure, aside from being illegal, now only demonstrates the short-sightedness of those responsible. As with any influential blog or BBS forum in China, Uighur Online's administrators were already in theory forced to censor any language which might alarm authorities. Now, all talks are off.

Well-known novelist Yao Xinyong, who writes on ethnic themes, in an essay published last fall, reprinted now on Gsoms Dong‘s Sohu blog, described Uighur Online as such:

The people who participate in this BBS and post messages are Uyghurs, Hans, Zangs, Kazakhs, Huis, Chaoxians and others, who come from all corners of the country; the wide variety of topics touched upon there include culture, politics, traditional customs, the economy, literature, anything you'd hope to find; its focus is primarily on Xinjiang, but it also looks to China and the world. In articles and speech, people are candid, free-speaking, even intense, but still relatively sensible, with everyone promoting understanding, earnestly seeking unity between different ethnic groups, and so the website has an exceptionally good vibe to it. This is directly related to the views held by its owners: “we can denounce the government for its faults, criticize the state for its abuses, and expose ethnic groups’ weak points, but in the things you publish here, please respect both your own ethnic group and the motherland, this is the most essential.” Such are the guidelines they have adopted: on one hand amply respecting online freedom of speech, and on the other, continuously deleting senseless threads which damage ethnic unity as well as locking down accounts which repeatedly post these kinds of words.


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