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A million-word novel got censored before it was even shared. Now Chinese users want answers.

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The news blew up on social media on July 11 after a few prominent influencer accounts belatedly picked it up. It became the top trending topic on Weibo that day, with users questioning whether WPS is infringing on their privacy. Since then, The Economic Observer, a Chinese publication, has reported that several other online novelists have had their drafts locked for unclear reasons in the past. 

Mitu’s complaint triggered a social media discussion in China about censorship and tech platform responsibility. It has also highlighted the tension between Chinese users’ increasing awareness of privacy and tech companies’ obligation to censor on behalf of the government. “This is a case where perhaps we are seeing that these two things indeed might collide,” says Tom Nunlist, an analyst on China’s cyber and data policy at the Beijing-based research group Trivium China 

While Mitu’s document has been saved online and was previously shared with an editor in 2021, she says she had been the only person editing it this year, when it was suddenly locked. “The content is all clean and can even be published on a [literature] website, but WPS decided it should be locked. Who gave it the right to look into users’ private documents and decide what to do with them arbitrarily?” she wrote.

First released in 1989 by the Chinese software company Kingsoft, WPS claims to have 310 million monthly users. It has partly benefited from government grants and contracts as the Chinese government looked to bolster its own firms over foreign rivals on security grounds.

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