“For those who have different views from China’s official narrative, censorship from the government is not the only thing they have to be cautious of—now they also face scrutiny from ordinary people,” said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor in the school of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This means fewer and fewer people will dare to voice their opinions, deepening the gap between different groups.”

The Hong Kong protests, initially against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed its residents to stand trial in mainland China, are now in their 13th week. The movement has since developed to encompass broader demands such as the resignation of the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam, and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality that took place during the demonstrations. 

While the protests have drawn millions of Hong Kong people to the streets, with polls showing that the protesters have widespread support (link in Chinese) in the city, propaganda from the Chinese government and affiliated media outlets have promoted the singular view—often through false information—that the protests are overwhelmingly violent with narrow support among Hong Kongers. The official narrative also smears all protesters as advocates of Hong Kong independence. In recent weeks, those views have been amplified in overdrive on Chinese social networks, accompanied by a chorus of local celebrities and foreign companies all proclaiming their support of China’s sovereignty. In reality, a multitude of voices do exist among mainland Chinese on the Hong Kong protests, even if finding them feels like an almost impossible task against the wall of cacophonous nationalism.

The fear of being doxxed has spread far outside mainland China. Hong Kong students at universities around the world who have been staging their own protests in recent weeks, for example, found themselves physically assaulted as well as doxxed by mainland Chinese students. At one such rally at Melbourne’s Monash University this month, a mainland Chinese woman who engaged with the pro-Hong Kong protesters rather than shouting them down was bullied by her compatriots, who threatened to report her to the consulate. Images of her face were then circulated on Chinese social networks, according to an account by Kevin Carrico, an academic teaching at the university.

Even journalists covering the protests haven’t been immune from the doxxing. One user on Twitter recently created a collage of female journalists of Chinese ethnicity who are working for foreign media—including Quartz—suggesting that they “crave” the perceived “high status” that comes with working for Western companies.

In the face of the mounting pressure from both grassroots informers and the government, liberal Chinese youth like Ren have become more inclined to keep quiet and even hide from the outside world. “When I get really upset, I imagine myself leaving my body and watching this whole scene unfold from far, far away,” Ren said. “Then those people appear so small.”  

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