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在加速崩塌的中国互联网上,正在消失的集体记忆

袁莉

2024年6月5日

Yifan Wu

Chinese people know their country’s internet is different. There is no Google, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. They use euphemisms online to communicate the things they are not supposed to mention. When their posts and accounts are censored, they accept it with resignation.

中国人知道他们国家的互联网是不同的。没有谷歌、YouTube、Facebook或Twitter。他们在网上使用委婉说法来表达他们不应该提及的事情。当他们的帖子和账户被审查时,他们只能接受。

They live in a parallel online universe. They know it and even joke about it.

他们生活在一个平行的网络世界里。他们知道这件事,甚至拿它来开玩笑。

Now they are discovering that, beneath a facade bustling with short videos, livestreaming and e-commerce, their internet — and collective online memory — is disappearing in chunks.

如今,他们发现,在短视频、直播和电子商务热闹的表象之下,他们的互联网——以及集体在线记忆——正在崩塌。

A post on WeChat on May 22 that was widely shared reported that nearly all information posted on Chinese news portals, blogs, forums, social media sites between 1995 and 2005 was no longer available.

5月22日,微信上一篇被广泛转发的帖子称,1995年至2005年间在中国新闻门户网站、博客、论坛和社交媒体网站上发布的几乎所有信息都已无法获取。

“The Chinese internet is collapsing at an accelerating pace,” the headline said. Predictably, the post itself was soon censored.

标题写道,“中国互联网正在加速崩塌”。不出所料,这篇帖子很快就遭到了审查。

“We used to believe that the internet had a memory,” He Jiayan, a blogger who writes about successful businesspeople, wrote in the post. “But we didn’t realize that this memory is like that of a goldfish.”

“我们原以为,互联网是有记忆的,”主要创作成功商人故事的博主何加盐在帖子中写道。“但没有想到,这种记忆,原来是像金鱼一样的记忆。”

It’s impossible to determine exactly how much and what content has disappeared. But I did a test. I used China’s top search engine, Baidu, to look up some of the examples cited in Mr. He’s post, focusing on about the same time frame between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.

我们无法确定究竟有多少内容消失了,或者有哪些内容消失了。但是我做了一个测试。我使用中国最大的搜索引擎百度查找了何加盐帖中引用的一些例子,主要集中在上世纪90年代中期到本世纪头十年中期之间的同一时间段。

I started with Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma, two of China’s most successful internet entrepreneurs, both of whom Mr. He had searched for. I also searched for Liu Chuanzhi, known as the godfather of Chinese entrepreneurs: He made headlines when his company, Lenovo, acquired IBM’s personal computer business in 2005.

我从阿里巴巴的马云和腾讯的马化腾开始,他们是中国最成功的互联网企业家,何加盐也搜索过他们。我还搜索了被称为中国企业家教父的柳传志:2005年,他的公司联想收购了IBM的个人电脑业务,他因此登上了新闻头条。

I looked, too, for results for China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, who during the period was the governor of two big provinces. Search results of senior Chinese leaders are always closely controlled. I wanted to see what people could find if they were curious about what Mr. Xi was like before he became a national leader.

我还查看了中国最高领导人习近平的搜索结果,他在此期间担任过两个大省的省长。中国高层领导人的搜索结果总是受到严密控制。我想看看,如果人们对习近平在成为国家领导人之前的情况感到好奇,他们会发现什么。

I got no results when I searched for Ma Yun, which is Jack Ma’s name in Chinese. I found three entries for Ma Huateng, which is Pony Ma’s name. A search for Liu Chuanzhi turned up seven entries.

搜索马云时,我没有得到任何结果。我找到了关于马化腾的三个条目。搜索柳传志,出现了七个条目。

There were zero results for Mr. Xi.

关于习近平,我没有得到任何结果。

Then I searched for one of the most consequential tragedies in China in the past few decades: the Great Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008, which killed over 69,000 people. It happened during a brief period when Chinese journalists had more freedom than the Communist Party would usually allow, and they produced a lot of high-quality journalism.

然后,我搜索了过去几十年来中国最严重的悲剧之一:2008年5月12日造成逾6.9万人丧生的汶川大地震。这件事发生在一个短暂的时期,那个时候,中国的记者拥有比共产党通常所允许的更多自由,他们创作了大量高质量的新闻作品。

When I narrowed the time frame to May 12, 2008, to May 12, 2009, Baidu came up with nine pages of search results, most of which consisted of articles on the websites of the central government or the state broadcaster Central Central Television. One caveat: If you know the names of the journalists and their organizations, you can find more.

当我把时间范围缩小到2008年5月12日至2009年5月12日,百度给出了九页的搜索结果,其中大部分是中央政府网站或国家广播机构中央电视台的文章。提示:如果你知道这些记者和他们所在机构的名字,就可以找到更多内容。

Each results page had about 10 headlines. My search found what had to have been a small fraction of the coverage at that time, much of which was published on the sites of newspapers and magazines that sent journalists to the epicenter of the earthquake. I didn’t find any of the outstanding news coverage or outpouring of online grief that I remembered.

每个搜索结果页面大约有10个标题。我的搜索所发现的,应该只是当时所有报道的一小部分,其中大部分发表在曾经派遣记者前往震中的报纸和杂志的网站上。我没有找到我记忆中任何出色的新闻报道或网上的哀悼。

In addition to disappearing content, there’s a broader problem: China’s internet is shrinking. There were 3.9 million websites in China in 2023, down more than a third from 5.3 million in 2017, according to the country’s internet regulator.

除了内容消失之外,还有一个更广泛的问题:中国的互联网正在萎缩。根据中国互联网监管机构的数据,2023年,中国有390万个网站,比2017年的530万个减少了三分之一以上。

China has one billion internet users, or nearly one-fifth of the world’s online population. Yet the number of websites using Chinese language make up only 1.3 percent of the global total, down from 4.3 percent in 2013 — a 70 percent plunge over a decade, according to Web Technology Surveys, which tracks online use of top content languages.

中国有10亿互联网用户,占世界网民总数的近五分之一。然而,使用中文的网站数量仅占全球总数的1.3%,低于2013年的4.3%——根据追踪在线使用顶级内容语言的“网络技术调查”机构,十年来下降了70%。

The number of Chinese language websites is now only slightly higher than those in Indonesian and Vietnamese, and smaller than those in Polish and Persian. It’s half the number of Italian language sites and just over a quarter of those in Japanese.

目前,中文网站的数量仅略高于印尼语和越南语网站,少于波兰语和波斯语网站,是意大利语网站数量的一半,略高于日语网站的四分之一。

One reason for the decline is that it is technically difficult and costly for websites to archive older content, and not just in China. But in China, the other reason is political.

网站减少的原因之一是,网站存档旧内容在技术上很困难,成本也很高,这个问题不仅仅是在中国才有。但在中国,另一个原因是政治因素。

Internet publishers, especially news portals and social media platforms, have faced heightened pressure to censor as the country has made an authoritarian and nationalistic turn under Mr. Xi’s leadership. Keeping China’s cyberspace politically and culturally pure is a top order of the Communist Party. Internet companies have more incentive to over-censor and let older content disappear by not archiving.

习近平上台后,中国开始走向专制和民族主义,互联网发布商,尤其是新闻门户网站和社交媒体平台,面临着更大的审查压力。保持中国网络空间在政治和文化上的纯净是共产党的首要任务。互联网公司更有动机进行过度审查,并且通过不存档的方式让旧内容消失。

Many people have had their online existences erased.

许多人的网上生活都被抹去了。

Two weeks ago, Nanfu Wang found that an entry about her on a Wikipedia-like site was gone. Ms. Wang, a documentary filmmaker, searched her name on the film review site Douban and came up with nothing. Same with WeChat.

两周前,纪录片导演王男栿发现,在一个类似维基百科的网站上,关于她的条目消失了。她在影评网站豆瓣上搜索自己的名字,结果一无所获。在微信上也是如此。

“Some of the films I directed had been deleted and banned on the Chinese internet,” she said. “But this time, I feel that I, as a part of history, have been erased.” She doesn’t know what triggered it.

“我导演的电影有些也在中国互联网上被删被禁,”她说。“但这次感受是我这个人作为历史的一部分,被抹去了。”她不知道是什么引发了这一切。

Zhang Ping, better known by his pen name, Chang Ping, was one of China’s most famous journalists in the 2000s. His articles were everywhere. Then in 2011, his writing provoked the wrath of the censors.

张平以笔名长平为人所知,他是本世纪头十年中国最著名的记者之一。他的文章曾经随处可见。2011年,他的文章引发了审查机构的愤怒。

“My presence in public discourse has been stifled much more severely than I anticipated, and that represents a significant loss of my personal life,” he told me. “My life has been negated.”

“我在公共舆论中的存在被扼杀得比预想的要严重得多,那也是我个人生命的很大一部分丧失,”他告诉我。“我感觉到是自己个体生命的否定。”

When my Weibo account was deleted in March 2021, I was saddened and angered. It had more than three million followers and thousands of posts recording my life and thoughts over a decade. Many of the posts were about current affairs, history or politics, but some were personal musings. I felt a part of my life had been carved away.

2021年3月,当我的微博账号被删除时,我感到悲伤和愤怒。它拥有300多万关注者,数以千计的帖子记录了我十年来的生活和想法。许多帖子是关于时事、历史或政治的,但也有一些是个人感想。我觉得自己生命的一部分被夺走了。

Many people intentionally hide their online posts because they could be used against them by the party or its proxies. In a trend called “grave digging,” nationalistic “little pinks” pour over past online writings of intellectuals, entertainers and influencers.

许多人故意隐藏自己的网上帖子,因为这些帖子可能被党或其代理人用来对付他们。在一种被称为“挖坟”的趋势中,民族主义“小粉红”会查阅知识分子、艺人和网红曾经在网上发表的东西。

For Chinese, our online memories, even frivolous ones, can become baggage we need to unload.

对于中国人来说,我们的网络记忆,即便琐碎,也可能成为我们需要卸下的包袱。

“Even though we tend to think of the internet as somewhat superficial,” said Ian Johnson, a longtime China correspondent and author, “without many of these sites and things, we lose parts of our collective memory.”

“尽管我们往往认为互联网有些肤浅,”长期驻华记者和作家张彦(Ian Johnson)说。“但如果没有这些网站和事物,我们就会失去部分集体记忆。”

In “Sparks,” a book by Mr. Johnson about brave historians in China who work underground, he cited the Internet Archive for Chinese online sources in the endnotes because, he said, he knew they would all eventually disappear.

张彦的《星火》(Sparks)一书讲述了在中国从事隐蔽工作的勇敢的历史学家们。在这本书的尾注中,他引用了互联网档案馆(Internet Archive)的中文在线资源,他说,因为他知道这些资料最终都会消失。

“History matters in every country, but it really matters to the C.C.P.,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “It’s history that justifies the party’s continued rule.”

“历史在每个国家都很重要,但对中共来说确实很重要,”他说。“是由历史证明党继续执政的合理性。”

Mr. Johnson founded the China Unofficial Archives website, which seeks to preserve blogs, movies and documents outside the Chinese internet.

张彦创建了“中国民间档案馆”网站,旨在保存中国互联网以外的博客、电影和文件。

There are other projects to save Chinese memories and history from falling into a void. Greatfire.org has several websites that provide access to censored content. China Digital Times, a nonprofit that fights censorship, archives work that has been or is in danger of being blocked. Mr. Zhang, the journalist, is its executive editor.

还有其他一些拯救中国记忆和历史,不让它们陷入空白的项目。Greatfire.org有几个网址提供曾被审查的内容。反对审查制度的非营利组织中国数字时代将已经屏蔽或存在屏蔽危险的作品存档。记者张平是该网站的执行主编。

Mr. He, author of the WeChat post that went viral, is deeply pessimistic that China’s erasure of history can be reversed.

中国抹去历史的做法能否得到逆转?那篇微信疯传文章的作者何加盐对此深感悲观。

“If you can still see some early information on the Chinese internet now,” he wrote, “it is just the last ray of the setting sun.”

“如果你现在还能看到一些中文互联网的古早信息,那只是夕阳的最后一抹余晖,”他写道。

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