A group of Chinese students at overseas universities have set up a political magazine to carry on the momentum of the the “white paper” protest movement., a wave of spontaneous demonstrations that swept major cities in late November. Triggered by a fatal lockdown fire in an apartment building in Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi, the protests also took aim at the rolling lockdowns, mass surveillance and mandatory testing of the zero COVID policy. Some protesters held up blank sheets of A4 printer paper and others called on President Xi Jinping to step down and call elections. The magazine’s co-founder Tong Sheng told RFA Mandarin about the new publication’s mission.
RFA: So how did the project start?
Tong Sheng: After meeting in Berlin, several like-minded friends gathered to discuss things and decided to start a magazine to do our own part to fight for little space for expression.
RFA: The first issue of Many Manywhich could be rendered as “reckless” in English, with connotations of luxuriantly growing plants, was officially released on New Year’s Eve with the rubric “remembering the small things of our time.”
Tong Sheng: To record the details of the era in which we live is our main task. First, we have noticed that the collective memory of people living in China, whether it is their memories of protests or other forms [of dissent], is constantly tinkered with through repeated propaganda. The regime now controls so much of the discourse and information channels and will not allow anything else [non-state] journalists to speak out or engage in objective reporting.
Meanwhile, the censorship is getting stricter and stricter. They used to just censor the news, then they moved to public accounts on WeChat, then to comments on Weibo, where more and more keyword searches were censored all the time.
People are suffocating; we have no way to say no. We believe that to counter this trend, there is a need for small platforms that are able to host these memories of the brutal things this regime has done to us, as well as things that have happened to marginalized people around the world or different parts of China whose voices have been overshadowed by the mainstream.
We can’t just let it [debate and information] comes and goes in waves as it does on the internet at the moment – we need a record.
RFA: For your first issue, you interviewed people who participated in the White Paper movement, Chinese transgender people seeking asylum and a psychologist working in China. What were the biggest obstacles to doing that reporting?
Tong Sheng: The biggest concern of all when talking to people in China is their security and how to maintain information security for both parties during the interview. The second biggest is trust and expectation. Our interviewees share very sensitive stories with us that could get them arrested. How can we meet that trust and those expectations? We cannot pay anyone; we can barely afford our own printing costs. So we have to ask ourselves if we are conveying what they say to our readers correctly.
During the production process, the part that touched me the most was the round table discussions where we distributed questionnaires to give more [white paper movement] participants to have their voices heard. Their comments were the simplest and most direct. For many, it was their first time on the streets. Some were in China and some abroad, all shared their anger and their expectations. Many of them also had high expectations of us, which both motivated us and put us under pressure.
RFA: Are the others Many Many editors all overseas students like you?
Tong Sheng: There are more than 10 people in the Mang Mang team. Some have jobs, but most of them are overseas students. Some are majoring in media…so this is a way to put their ideals into practice.
RFA: What do Many Many hope to achieve by 2023?
Tong Sheng: There have been many obstacles and difficulties to overcome just to produce the first issue and we poured a lot of energy into it to bring it to print. We need to find a way to get the team to work in a sustainable way and get the necessary funds so that everyone can put all their energy into the magazine.
We hope Many Many can play a role in the new wave of transformation that has swept in [China] since the protests… [For example], workshops and book clubs are being set up in many places. We hope to defend our collective memory.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.