Chinese censorship attracts more criticism from its own citizens after an unpublished novel is wiped from the cloud

Social literature platform allegedly locked author of work that contained illegal content

Censorship has long been present in China, with the country imposing severe restrictions on all forms of media, including print, radio, theatre, film, television and of course social media. Any voices opposed to government talking points are quickly suppressed. A Chinese digital novelist found this out the hard way after she was kicked out of her draft of a long novel written on cloud-based word processing software WPS.

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Speaking to a local literary forum on June 25, Mitu accused the Chinese government of snooping on her million-word draft, adding that WPS had excluded it from the novel she had written, claiming he contained illegal information (via MIT Technology Review). Mitu claims she shared the draft with an editor in 2021, though she was the only person to edit it that year.

While the news seemed to be simmering a bit, it gained traction on Chinese social media platforms on July 11 after a few prominent accounts discussed the matter. From there, it didn’t take long for him to start listing trending topics on Weibo, one of the country’s most popular social media platforms.

This episode has sparked a big debate among “netizens”, as they are often called, about privacy and the conduct of local platforms that allow the government to intrude on and monitor people’s private lives. Local publication The Economic Observer notes that many other novelists have already gone through the same ordeal.

Meanwhile, WPS, which is owned by Chinese software giant Kingsoft, issued a statement following the author’s initial complaint, denying the idea that it censors locally stored files. In a separate statement, the company cited local cybersecurity laws, which state that it is the platform’s responsibility to review content shared on its domain. It should be noted that Kingsoft has received a few contracts from the Chinese government as part of Beijing’s attempt to increase reliance on domestically developed solutions.

We now also have a good understanding of how censorship algorithms are triggered at WPS. According to a July 13 comment from the WPS Customer Service Team on Weibo, simply syncing and storing the draft would not trigger the review, but generating a shareable link for the file/document certainly would.

Some concerned citizens are asking WPS for clarification, though their voices are unlikely to be heard given that censorship is tightly tied to local regulations. With around 310 million monthly users to its name, WPS could be pushed back as citizens walk away from the service due to privacy concerns.

Irene B. Bowles