“Utopia website shutdown: interview with Fan Jinggang”

Alright, hard to beat the irony of the hard-left Maoist figures getting censored and shut down by the same heavy-handed authoritarian state they’ve always supported. A Danwei writer interviewed Fan Jinggang, the man behind one of the biggest sites in the neo-Maoist revival, and you have to enjoy the undercurrent of crow-eating throughout the piece:

In the days immediately following Bo’s removal from his post as Party Secretary and head of Chongqing on March 15, Utopia had experienced connectivity issues. Fan said that this could have been a server problem – “judging from our server’s data, it was mainly caused by the sharp rise of visits that went beyond the system capacity,” but he isn’t shy of offering some vague conspiracy theorizing, adding that “it’s also possible certain forces, domestic or overseas, maliciously attacked our website.”

He was being disingenuous: at the same time that Utopia was having problems, other Maoist websites such as Mao Flag and Red China went offline or displayed “under maintenance” messages which is what Chinese websites often show when ordered to be shut down. But Utopia continued publishing – until Friday April 6, when the authorities paid Fan Jinggang a visit, shortly before we spoke.

Fan seemed unfazed by the encounter; a few days later, though, Fan told me he could no longer answer follow-up questions: Bo Xilai, it had been officially announced, was now under central investigation and the clampdown was in full swing.

Despite Utopia’s pugnacious attitude towards liberals and the government’s current worries about the website, it’s worth mentioning how unthreatening Fan and his store appear. His small, sixth-storey bookshop — left out the lift, past the masseuse, hit the smell of mildew and you’re there — has nothing on its shelves to sound any alarms. The titles — The Secret of American Hegemony, The End of the American Century, China’s Prosperity About to Go Bust?, 25 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism! — have the tone of harmless public eccentrics, buttonholing readers with cranky political theories.

Fan sees Utopia as defending the “interests of the country and the people” against the self-interests of the reformers. Many are receptive to his ideas: Utopia claims 500 million total visits, and Fan says the site recently rose to being among the top 600 sites in the PRC. The 200,000 or so articles they have published were submitted by “big-city readers… mostly intellectuals who are concerned about China’s society and economy… 90 percent of them are supporters of our general idea.”

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Filed under censorship, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Maoism

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