Chinese Censors Believed to Have Deleted Taiwanese Actress’ Tweets Supporting Free Press

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Annie Yi’s messages in support of the liberal "Southern Weekend" newspaper were deleted along with a post hinting that she was summoned to discuss her tweets with security officials.

HONG KONG -- “I’m going to go have tea. I hope the tea is good.” Annie Yi’s message, posted on Thursday, looked innocuous enough, resembling one of many she has left on her Weibo account -- China's version of Twitter -- about her daily life.

But it’s whom she’s sharing a drink with that has caused an uproar on the Internet in China, since “having tea” is a commonly-used code phrase in the country for being summoned by public security officials for a closed-door meeting.

That the Taiwanese actress’ Weibo account hasn’t been updated for two days has only added to speculation that she was silenced for her stinging messages in support of the Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekend, where the editorial staff went on a brief strike a few days ago to protest the decision of government propaganda officials to replace a reform-minded article with a pro-government one.

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Yi was one of a handful Chinese A-listers who tweeted in support of the Southern Weekend journalists. Her posts were more straightforward in lambasting the authorities than some of her peers, as she described the interventionist officials as “dogs” and, in a later message, said: “Your rage made me sure I’m in the right… and your killing made me sure I’m alive”.

The messages were re-tweeted millions of times within the Chinese blogosphere, but the critical ones were removed from Yi’s account on Thursday, along with the actress’ final post about going out for her tea meeting.

Chinese censors are widely known to be constantly cyber-patroling Weibo accounts and have the power to delete tweets. While they typically don't confirm when they delete messages, social media users in China suggested that this is what happened in Yi's case.

The Internet police seem to have overlooked one, however, that she had posted on Wednesday. It contained Yi’s photos of some books, including a fragment of a poem by Chinese writer Beidao, which reads: “Silent good people could become accomplices to evil.”

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Born in Taiwan and of Japanese ancestry, Yi came to prominence as a singer and actor at home, where she starred in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 1996 Palme d’Or contestant Goodbye South, Goodbye, before relocating to mainland China for a very productive television series career. Responding to queries about whether Yi’s career will be affected by her online remarks, her agent told the Taiwanese media that “there is nothing like that” happening.