Society

Clubhouse users cash in on invitation codes in mainland China

The audio-chat social networking app, Clubhouse is offering users in mainland China a taste of free speech. One user, John Lam, stayed up till 3am listening to participants talk about Xinjiang, an often taboo subject on the mainland.

“An ethnic minority user in America talked about his family members being arrested in Xinjiang, and participants constantly reminded each other about their personal safety,” Mr. Lam said.

Launched last March, Clubhouse drew 5 million users within a month when it streamed The Lion King musical in December last year.

Clubhouse now ranks first place among free apps in Hong Kong.

After registering with a mobile phone number, users get an ID. But joining a chatroom is by invitation only. Another user has to send you an invitation code via SMS, and each account only gets to invite two others.

Clubhouse is free outside the mainland. It is ranked the number one free app at the moment. But in the mainland, users are cashing in on the invitations. On the e-commerce platform, Taobao invitation codes are sold for around 100 yuan each. More than two dozen shops on Taobao are selling the codes, with one store getting nearly 200 sales on average everyday.

Taobao sellers also provide remote technical support for installing the app.

On Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in the mainland, people bid for cheaper invitation codes. Some are available for around 45 yuan.

Clubhouse users can choose between chatrooms on certain topics and listen to celebrities.

Clubhouse is offering users outside China a glimpse inside the country. Cici Wang, 20, a mainland student studying in America, learned about the Taiwan earthquake while listening to a discussion in the Cross-Strait Youth chatroom.

“It was a rare opportunity for people in the mainland to discuss freely on serious political topics with people from other regions or countries,” said Ms Wang.

Nearly 800 people joined the chatroom to listen to young people across the Taiwan Strait share personal experiences, opinions on living conditions, women status and politics.

Moderators from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan organised the chat to ensure everybody had a chance to talk in an orderly manner.

A speaker from Taiwan explained to mainland listeners what the Hong Kong 2019 protest slogan “Five demands, not one less” meant. A mainland speaker responded saying “unjustified emotional confrontation is unnecessary” during what was a civil and orderly discussion.

Exiled Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, shared his personal experience from Portugal with 5,000 users on what it is like being constantly monitored by Chinese authorities. One user asked if anyone has been invited to he cha because of Clubhouse yet. He cha in China literally means “drink tea”, a euphemism for police interrogation.

Five thousand people participated in a Clubhouse session to share their experience on being interrogated in China.

Mars Ma, 30, in Beijing, paid 78 yuan for a Clubhouse invitation code on Xianyu, another e-commerce platform under Alibaba.

“This app temporarily pulls users, especially those of us in mainland China, into the world's Internet. Being able to speak makes it an immersive experience,” Ms Ma said.

But she believes Clubhouse will eventually be banned in the mainland.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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