IN CHINA, it looks like the end of Consensus. No, I’m not talking about Xi Jinping fashioning himself as “the core,” or as the country’s COE, or “chairman of everything.” I’m talking about the sudden and complete eradication over the weekend of the website Consensus, 21ccom.cn, which long served as a respected platform bringing together writers and academics of various backgrounds to discuss more sensitive issues of social and political development in China.
An order for the closure of Consensus reportedly came from Beijing authorities on October 1, China’s National Day. According to the Chinese-language service of Radio France International (RFI), the site’s CEO said on the social media platform WeChat that Consensus had been shut down for “transmitting incorrect ideas” (传递错误思想).
Just over seven years old, the website was operated by Lide Consensus Media Group (立德共识网络传媒科技有限公司). Contributors to Consensus included university academics such as Zhang Ming (张鸣), a professor at Renmin University of China and a former CMP fellow, Tsinghua University professor Sun Liping (孙立平), and professional journalists such as Shi Feike (石扉客) and Xie Yong (謝泳).
[ABOVE: Popular writers appearing on the Consensus website at 21ccom.net prior to its closure on October 1, 2016. From left: Sun Liping; Zhang Ming; Shi Feike; Xie Yong.]
The Consensus WeChat account was still in operation as of October 3, but the last article posted to the account was dated August 15, 2016. The automated WeChat message for new subscribers to the account read:
Thank you for following the Consensus website and the Thinkers Blog (思想者博客). Here, we can explore together the other side not reflected in the history books, we can listen together to those voices that have disappeared in the mainstream media, and we can consider together that question still awaiting an answer: What direction is China heading?
One year ago, Lotus Ruan wrote on the TechInAsia blog that the website was “somehow bolder, less censored, more ‘sensitive’ compared with that in other online platforms,” possibly owing to its more circumscribed audience, confined largely to academics, university students, businesspeople and government officials. Ruan also noted that discussion of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, just a few months away at the time, was more visible on the Consensus site even as it was “consciously suppressed in Sina, Phoenix/IFeng, NetEast and other commercial news portals.”