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How a Twitter Account With a Funny Cat Avatar Told the Tale of China’s Protests

The unprecedented protests that swept China late last month, posing the most serious challenge to President Xi Jinping’s authority since he took office, had an unusual focal point: a Chinese Twitter account with a cat avatar.

As people took to the streets to demand greater freedoms and an end to zero-Covid restrictions, the account “Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher” live-tweeted the protests, providing a rare glimpse into how quickly and widely the outpouring of dissent reverberated across the country, CNN reported.

Videos, photos, and accounts of the protests were quickly censored online in China. However, participants, witnesses, and others who knew how to breach the Great Firewall would send them to “Teacher Li,” who became a vital source of information for people in China and elsewhere. (Twitter, like many other social media platforms and news websites, is blocked in China, but it can be accessed through a VPN.)

Who is Teacher Li?

Li, a bespectacled 30-year-old painter, is behind the account, CNN said in its report. He spent most of his waking hours glued to a chair in front of a curved monitor and a pastel-colored keyboard – thousands of miles away from the protests in an Italian living room corner.

For days, he waded through an endless flood of private messages in his Twitter inbox, sent by people all over China with information about the protests and their aftermath to share. He posted them on their behalf, shielding the senders from Chinese authorities’ scrutiny.

This Account is a Symbol

In recent years, Beijing has expanded its crackdown on dissent to foreign platforms, arresting and imprisoning Chinese Twitter users who criticise the government. These anonymous dissenting voices, however, were converged and amplified by Li.

“This account could become a symbol that the Chinese people are still fighting for freedom of expression,” Li told CNN. “When you post something within China, it quickly vanishes.” This account can preserve all of the historical events and moments that cannot be preserved within the country.”

At the height of the protests, Li received thousands of submissions per day, and up to dozens per second. In two weeks, his following quadrupled to over 800,000. Journalists, observers, and activists closely followed his feed, and some of his posts were broadcast on televisions around the world.

As Li Received Attention, His Parents Were Harassed

“I didn’t have time to respond at all. At the time, my only thought was to document what was going on,” Li explained. “The impact is beyond my wildest dreams.” I didn’t expect billions of clicks on my feed in such a short time.”

The Chinese authorities became interested in Li as his profile grew. As China’s security apparatus launched a sweeping campaign of surveillance, intimidation, and detention against protesters, Li became a target.

Last Saturday, Li was tweeting away when he received an anxious phone call from his parents in eastern China, telling him that they had just had another visit from the police.

“As soon as I started updating Twitter, they called my parents and told me to stop.” “They then came to our house at midnight to harass my parents,” Li said.

It was the officers’ second call of the day. A local police chief and a small group of officers had already summoned Li’s parents. They accused Li of “attacking the state and the (Communist) Party” and presented “criminal evidence” in the form of a list of his tweets.

“They wanted to know if there were any foreign forces behind me, if I received any money, or if I paid people for their submissions,” Li explained.

Li informed his parents that he was not working for anyone and that no money was involved. His father pleaded with him to “retreat” and stop posting.

“I can’t go back now.” “Please don’t be concerned about me,” Li told them.

With inputs from CNN

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