Now that a popular parody and meme app in China called “Neihan Duanzi” has been shut down and its social media account on WeChat got deleted, fans of the app are gathering in solidarity offline in subtle protest.
Drivers are honking at each other in code to indicate that they’re fans, The New York Times reports. A coded message might be a car honk, followed by a pause, and two more honks.
This week, while in the US Congress was slowly grilling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in China, regulators brought down swift bans on offending news apps and social media apps. On Monday, China banned several big news apps including Jinri Toutiao, owned by Beijing-based Bytedance Technology. Then, the following day, authorities shut down Neihan Duanzi, a platform for users to share parody skits, citing vulgar content on the platform that “triggered strong resentment from internet users.”
Toutiao’s CEO, Zhang Yiming, issued an apology letter soon after for “publishing a product that collided with core socialist values.” While Toutiao is expected to return online by April 30th, Duanzi has been permanently shut down, according to an April 10th statement from its site. China had previously banned video spoofs and parodies in a March directive, a lot of which appeared on Duanzi.
Fans of Duanzi are now seeking each other out offline, but even those secret codes initiated by loyal fans are in violation of Chinese law, a local media site reports. A bus driver was detained and questioned by the Qingdao traffic police after he randomly honked on the street. Regulators are telling drivers to only honk when necessary and have put up signs in many parts of eastern and central Chinese cities like Qingdao and Xi’an, banning inappropriate honking. A fine of 100 yuan ($15.88) will be issued to violators.
Users have lamented the loss of Duanzi on Toutiao’s inactive Weibo account, which hasn’t been deleted. “I think it might be a potential threat to society or the country that Neihan Duanzi drew more users and had a greater rallying power,” said one user.
Some fans even arranged their cars, more than 40 vehicles together, to spell out the Chinese character for their city, which local police also later deemed “suspected to be illegal.” The Chinese government often disapproves of people organizing together in large groups and rallies. According to relevant laws, unlicensed activities that are suspected to be illegal could be punishable, local media reports.