Activist blogger Zhou
Shuguang uses a light tone to draw attention to heavy issues plaguing Chinese
Everything changed in 2008 for activist blogger Zhou Shuguang (32), better known under his screen name Zola. That year, he reported on how local officials in Weng’an, a small town in southern China, tried to cover up the circumstances around the death of a 16-year-old girl. The girl had last been seen in the company of a relative of one of the officials.
Online anger over the lack of a proper investigation motivated then 26-year-old vegetable seller Zola to ride his motorcycle from his rural hometown to Weng’an, more than 750 kilometers west. He reported on the locals’ anger over the cover up on his website.
‘Everything changed after that, but it went as I expected,’ says Zola from his
current home in New Taipei, Taiwan. His website jumped from two hundred
visitors to two hundred thousand in a few days.
Armed only with his Samsung pocket camera, a laptop and a handwritten card with his personal details, Zola has chosen a risky path to fame by deciding to report on real issues instead of what China’s state television reports as news. That news is ‘crap’, Zola states confidently.
‘I never think much about the risks,’ he says. ‘I just
do it. There are not many people like me, who have both the technical skills to
blog and the sense for a good story. Everyone can use the Internet, but not
every vegetable seller can become a blogger.’
Zola does not consider himself a professional activist. ‘It is only when an issue is very interesting and I feel I can do something by reporting about it: that’s when I become an activist.’
Zola applies a tongue-in-cheek tone to his activism. That does not mean he does not feel a great deal of anger when covering injustice.
‘I am definitely angry when I report a story, but I try to tell it in a different way. Social issues are really very dark, very serious. If I report on these things with too serious a tone, my friends and readers might get unhappy and not want to read it. My goal is to get them to pay more attention to social issues, so I use a fun way to talk about it. People will sooner accept a story that way and help to distribute it more widely.’
In 2012, Zola and his Taiwanese wife moved to Taiwan. He currently teaches people on how to bypass the strict censorship in mainland China and how to work as a citizen journalist and activist blogger. State censors have blocked access to his blog from within the mainland since 2007.
‘A lot of people are reporting issues nowadays, recording things with their smartphones,’ Zola says optimistically. ‘Things will surely change because of this. China will become a more open society eventually.’
By Remko Tanis