In 2016, citizen journalist Lu Yuyu and his girlfriend at the time Li Tingyu were formally arrested after having been detained for over a month. The two had been chronicling “mass incidents” across China on the “Not News” (非新聞) blog and @wickedonnaa Twitter account since 2013. Reporters Without Borders awarded the detained Lu and Li a Press Freedom Prize in 2016. While Li was reportedly tried in secret and released in April 2017, Lu was sentenced to four years in prison that August for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catch-all charge frequently used to prosecute activists.
— 卢昱宇 (@darkmamu6) July 19, 2020
Endlessly interrogated. Most of the time they wanted me to identify the messages I posted publicly. Sometimes they’d intentionally put in some unrelated photos and text into the files. That was no big deal for me, I had a thing for remembering photos. Sometimes they’d ask me other questions.
“Who supported you?” Who sent you money?” I don’t know them. Internet friends.
“Internet friends? Why would they give you money? Why did you have money from overseas?” Because I wrote news for them to read. I started a crowdfunding campaign online. Why can’t people have internet friends from overseas?
“Have you made any plans recently?” Nope.
“Have you contacted anyone?” I haven’t used my phone in a long time.
“Why not?” Because I have social anxiety, and because I wanted to focus on what I like to do.
Jane [Li Tingyu’s English name] didn’t complain much, she doesn’t love to socialize. But one day she suddenly said she wanted to make more friends, that she didn’t have a single friend in Dali. I didn’t know how to respond, perhaps our life was too mundane for Jane. I used to have some friends in Dali, but I didn’t contact them after I came to the city. For one, I have changed; for two, I didn’t want to waste time.
“What’s this receipt about?” Someone paid to subscribe to our news and asked for a receipt.
“Who?” I don’t know. Internet friends.
“What’s ‘Humanitarian China’?” Is it really that hard to understand?
“Did you post on foreign websites? We found in your old computer screenshots of your posts on foreign websites.” I shot back, “Are websites divided into foreign and domestic?” Just present your evidence. Why bother asking me?
That old computer was sent to me by a friend from afar who thought typing on an iPad was inconvenient for me. But I accidentally broke the computer’s screen and stopped using it, and I didn’t want to throw it away.
“Why are you collecting this information? What’s your purpose?” It’s my hobby to document collective action, just like how I loved collecting postal stamps as a kid, and how I loved collecting Neofolk from all around the world in my youth. All were personal hobbies. Also, I am a peasant. I’ve lived at the bottom of the society. Isn’t it normal for me to care about the underprivileged?
“And so many people give you money for your personal hobbies?” They did it out of their own will. It’s not like I forced billions of people to pay me for my personal hobby.
“When did you start to document this? Why?” Around 2012. I didn’t like to passively accept information pushed on me by others. I loved to do research and find information on my own. So many big things happened around that time that changed my perception of the country. For example, Ai Weiwei, Chen Guangcheng, or places like Shaxi, Shifang, Qidong, Yinggehai. I also found information that no one knew. As I found more and more, I just wanted to document them.
“What keywords did you use in your searches?” Strikes, demonstrations, protests, roadblocks, etc. I can’t recall all of them without actually doing the searches.
“How much money do you receive every year?” I don’t know, I didn’t keep track. Around 50,000 or 60,000 yuan.
“If you want to document history, you can do so on your own computer. Why do you have to publish them?” History has to be public for the people. Otherwise, what’s the point?
“Why do you have the word DARK in your Sina usernames? Does this have a special meaning?” No, I just like DARK music.
“What do those knives mean in your profile pictures?” I took the pictures at the home of an old lady who was too poor to afford food, in Heizhiguo, Yunnan. I just took them randomly. I thought they looked nice. No special meanings.
“Don’t you know the information you post can negatively affect society?” I only document the truth. As for negative effects, that depends on who you are talking about, right? Sometimes I want to help those involved. But experience has shown me that’s not possible.
“You weren’t even at the scene. How do you know those things were true?” After I find the first piece of information, I keep looking for more on different websites, for cross references from different witnesses. I can also contact those who posted them to fact-check. I am sure that of those some 70,000 cases I posted, all are true. You have been investigating me for so long, did you find any of them to be made up?
“Why don’t you use the government press release?” You seldom issue press releases. Even when you do, it’s often just a few paragraphs. With that being said, if I was able to find any government press releases, I put them together with other information I collected for cross reference. But I don’t adopt the government’s tone. I am just a civilian. I try to remain an independent third party.
Why do you use words like “crackdown”? Why don’t you use “deal with”? I think “crackdown” is more neutral. Like I’ve said, I’m not used to adopting the government’s narrative.
“Why do you keep doing it despite so many rounds of warnings? Don’t you know you were breaking the law?” I’m innocent, even according to your laws.
“Did you keep track of how many Sina Weibo accounts you’ve had? Why do you keep registering for new accounts when your old ones got censored?” I didn’t keep track, maybe around 1,000 accounts? I used to register by myself, but after I hit the limit I just bought them from Taobao. [Chinese]