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After a Frenzy of Hype, Clubhouse Becomes Largely Inaccessible in China

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Update: This article originally appeared as “Clubhouse Membership is the Latest Status Symbol in China — But How Long Can it Last?” We now know the answer. As of 8 PM on February 8 China time, it appears Clubhouse is no longer accessible in the country. 

“Are you on Clubhouse?” has become the new greeting among China’s movers and shakers. The audio drop-in app is currently seeing phenomenal popularity among the country’s more internationalized, urban-dwelling citizens.

It’s been less than a week since Clubhouse first started to pick up in China — and since entrepreneur Justin Sun announced the launch of a “China version” — and in that time, its Chinese user base has exploded. As socially active and well-educated intellectuals join the as-of-yet unblocked platform, state media tabloid Global Times has even been prompted to weigh in and claim that its popularity won’t last.

But many are less worried about its durability and more that the space it allows for free and unfettered discussion of issues (including those considered “sensitive” in China) will soon disappear behind the Great Firewall, while others have questioned how secure an app that requires phone number and real name registration is for Chinese citizens.

Related:

Tech Entrepreneur Justin Sun Just Launched a China Version of Clubhouse

User groups of Clubhouse in China range from entrepreneurs, tech workers, and Twitter thought leaders to influencers, journalists, scholars, activists, and dissidents. As joining the platform requires a non-mainland Chinese App Store account, people who are on Clubhouse usually have an internationalized background, and it’s important to note that despite the buzz, the proportion of the Chinese population using the app is likely still very small.

Many of the recent Chinese language discussions that could be found on Clubhouse echoed trending topics on Chinese social media — such as views on surrogacy, the challenges facing female tech workers, and the subculture shamate. Others were censorship-free conversations around Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and other “sensitive” topics. China-watching Twitter has been abuzz with comments around how positive and open many of the chats they witnessed have been.

Because Clubhouse asks for real names and recording conversations is not impossible, questions and concerns have also sprung up about the future of the app in China, and whether it will inevitably get banned by Chinese authorities.

Paul Davison, one of the co-founders of Clubhouse, addressed some of these issues over the weekend in a room with Chinese tech workers, noting that the platform is working on safety and security features.

Not that it’s all politics being discussed, either. Some Chinese users are using it simply as a networking opportunity (through “silent rooms”), while still more rooms are about guarding “little fresh meat” actor Xiao Zhan, and even one where MC Jin is discussing the important subject of bad dad jokes.

Clubhouse Xiaozhan

A Clubhouse room about actor Xiao Zhan

While the hype around Clubhouse in China is now reaching ridiculous levels, where exactly it goes from here is hard to tell.

For those based in China, especially as the Lunar New Year holiday is just around the corner, the app could provide an open way to kill time between dealing with nosy relatives and waiting for New Year’s feasts. That is, if it remains unblocked.

Header image: Camilo Jimenez via UnSplash

Siyuan Meng
    Born and raised in Shaoxing, Siyuan lived in New York and Los Angeles prior to Shanghai. If she is not at work, she is probably at an art museum, a gym, a Mom-and-Pop restaurant or a park. She likes reading books or playing the piano on rainy days. She thinks she takes great photos.