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With their voices stifled on Douban, China’s largest online community of women seek new home

Written by Jiaxing Li Published on     2 mins read

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The women call each other “sisters” and are all-weather pillars of support.

Forums are where we can meet friends, trade gossip, and form meaningful relationships with people who share our interests. This was the case on Douban, China’s most popular platform to review books, movies, and other forms of media, where users discussed anything between their celebrity crushes and the political developments of the day—until the crackdown came.

In September 2021, Douban suspended its reply function, and it was removed from app stores in December after it was fined for failing to censor content. The developments have led to a migration of users onto sites like Reddit, which shares some functional DNA with Douban.

“Sometimes my posts are banned from comments or even deleted [from Douban] without any reason, even if it’s just some discussions about an actress,” a Douban user surnamed Li said to Oasis. “I don’t understand what is ‘sensitive’ anymore, and it’s really frustrating.”

Li isn’t alone. With nearly 700,000 members, Douban Goose Group was the largest discussion group on Douban. It started as a community where its members, most of whom are young women, share gossip and news about celebrities. It became a tight-knit cluster. “Sisters” bonded by having heart-to-hearts over the internet, talking about their crushes, venting, and even delivering lengthy sermons about smashing patriarchal structures.

That was the root of controversy and upheaval—because women far outnumbered men in the group, and the topics of discussion so often veered toward matters of gender equality, there was snapback. The “sisters” were often labeled as “radicial feminists” who sought to disrupt the status quo.

In the past two months, the sisters of Douban Goose Group are increasingly moving to platforms that have far fewer limitations—ones that are based overseas.

One long-time Douban user founded a subreddit that was meant to be the new home for the group. (It is named, aptly, /r/DoubanGoosegroup.) She declined to take part in a full interview with Oasis, but said, “There are not so many female-friendly Chinese forums on the internet. We want to keep it low-profile and protect our corner.”

The subreddit’s ranks are no match for the original on Douban. At the moment, it has roughly 10,300 members who chime in about the latest episode of Euphoria, share news about domestic violence in China, and discuss social affairs like life under lockdown and the disintegrating marriage of famous singer Wang Leehom.

Even so, the diverse topics are nothing like the frenetic exchanges that could, on some occasions, involve thousands of people at the same time. The lost order of magnitude in membership numbers has also tempered the pace of conversation, and connections between people have faded as many have been permanently restricted from leaving comments on Douban due to “improper speech.”

“I miss the feeling of chatting all night long. They’re like my sisters online, and you can’t find that anywhere else,” Li said. Ultimately, platforms don’t matter as much as the communities that form around them. The interactions can take place anywhere, as long as there is space for people to share their thoughts.

WRITTEN BY

Jiaxing Li

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