This article was first published on China Change on March 16, 2016
At around 8:15 p.m. on March 15, the Chinese columnist Jia Jia disappeared, after going to the Beijing airport in the afternoon for a flight to Hong Kong. The incident is believed to be connected to an open letter to Xi Jinping published on the website www.watching.cn.
Jia Jia told to friends privately that, on March 4 when he learned from a WeChat friend circle about the letter’s appearance on watching.cn, he contacted the Executive Director Ouyang Hongliang, who was a former colleague of his, about it. When the censorship authorities investigated the incident, Ouyang, in response to questioning, said he’d first heard about it from Jia Jia. Soon thereafter, family members of Jia Jia in Shaanxi Province were also questioned by authorities.
Before Jia Jia left for Hong Kong, he told a number of friends that he was afraid that he’d be detained and subject to questioning.
The open letter in question carried the byline “Loyal Communist Party members,” and was titled “Open letter demanding that Comrade Xi Jinping resign from his post as leader of the Party and state.” It appeared in the early hours of the morning on March 4 in the “One Belt, One Road” section of the watching.cn site. It was on the opening day of the “Two Sessions” — the annual assemblies of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — in Beijing.
Soon after the letter appeared in watching.cn, an online media outlet funded by the Xinjiang propaganda department (as well as Alibaba and the SEEC Media Group), it went viral online, and the website was shut down. After the website came back online, the article had been deleted.
The open letter was first published in the overseas Chinese media Mingjing, which reports mostly on political and factional fighting in the Communist Party. The letter criticizes Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping for directly seizing authority and policymaking over the economy, the cultural sphere, and foreign relations, and argues that all these areas have regressed since Xi came to power, creating “unprecedented crises.”
According to Apple Daily, citing sources familiar with the matter, the letter’s appearance on watching.cn was a result of computer hacking. This took place at the exact same time that overseas websites published the letter, making it clear, according to Apple Daily, that “it had been planned in advance.” The source concluded that “however dumb watching.cn may be, they wouldn’t be so dumb as to do this,” and that the result of this hacking will be miserable indeed.
But the latest report says it was not a hacking incident.
Friends told China Change that it’s highly unlikely that Jia Jia wrote the letter or had anything to do at all with its appearance on watching.cn.
Jia Jia is a columnist, author, and well-known media personality whose commentaries are published widely. He publishes a regular column in Tencent Online. He is a former editor at Tencent, Hong Kong’s iSun Affairs Weekly, and Initium. Jia Jia currently resides in Hong Kong.