The Mainland Chinese Using Nostr To Post Uncensored Thoughts

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One of the most interesting things about Bitcoin is that it is censorship-proof. This same philosophy has applied to Nostr. Both tools together can empower financial freedom and freedom of speech. This is especially exciting in terms of censored information environments and places where Bitcoin is banned such as China. As part of my book on Bitcoin + China, I talked with Will from Damus who walked me through the cat-and-mouse game the Chinese authorities played in banning Damus from the Chinese app store two days from launch.  I was curious about some of the chatter on Nostr – were there still Mainland Chinese communities on the Nostr network?   

NOTE: As important context, some Mandarin speakers have responded to this article. While censorship was cited as a reason for one, some (notably one likely living abroad) said that Nostr was more useful for the privacy element (no phone number or email needed for registration) and others said because it was good fun. People doubted whether it could survive the Great Firewall if it became more.

1- As a % of the number of notes, the number of people posting in Simplified Mandarin is quite small.

It is ranked #33 in terms of number of posts on Nostr based off a randomised sample of around ~560,000 Nostr notes. For reference, Mandarin has the second most total speakers in the world, and by far the most native language speakers at more than 900 million. Even though in the past, Nostr and Damus were immensely popular in the Hong Kong app store and had some presence in the Mainland, today, it doesn’t seem many people continue posting. However, one thing to note is that most posts are in simplified Mandarin and not in traditional Mandarin, meaning it’s likely that many of them are from Mainland China as opposed to Taiwan. 

2- While it is rare to see Mandarin posts, it does appear that Nostr is silently hosting discussions from the Mainland without the need to access Chinese Firewall apps – and giving people the ability to broadcast their thoughts at scale. People also post about technical abilities of Nostr relays and apps – which allows, at times, access to Nostr content without the use of VPNs in China. 

A few are related to Bitcoin – translated into English: 

“BRC-20 may not be good for Bitcoin, but it is definitely bad for Ethereum. 🤠”

“Is this the person who issued MiamiCoin before? After going bankrupt, he returned to BTC?”

“Are Vanguard, BlackRock, Bank of America, and Fidelity all so optimistic about MicroStrategy? Saylor is awesome. 😁”

“Bitcoin is traumatic for central banks.”

“It is garbage Binance that helps the CCP’s powerful class launder money and move China’s dirty money.”

“Bitcoin is a permissionless, open currency.”

Some are related to global geopolitics, mostly commentary on the war in Russia:

“I support Putin’s conservative views, but I oppose his war and authoritarian rule. The fight against white leftists and communism is a spiritual battle.”

Some are very specifically focused on Chinese economics/politics, including a focus on monetary policy and some specific sensitive points, especially on real estate:

“At the end of May 23, China’s M2 was 282 trillion yuan. The central bank will take up 260 trillion yuan of local government bonds and real estate inventories. M2 doubled, and people fell to the ground. Can it reach 10 first?😎”

“Gold, denominated in RMB, has risen by about 58% since the turnaround of China’s real estate market in October 2021, and the increase is still expanding! At the same time, a house worth tens of millions in Shenzhen could buy 888.8 ounces of gold if it could be sold at that time; now the house price has fallen to 6 million, and after the increase in gold, it can only buy 346 ounces! The average price of Shenzhen housing denominated in gold has fallen by 61% in three years!”

And others are about day-to-day life in the Mainland. 

“Good morning, I feel like I didn’t get enough sleep, I need to go back to sleep again. 😴”

“It’s so funny. The chickens in our house are the same. Whenever my sister eats rice or noodles, the chickens will disappear in an instant. My sister can’t fight four chickens alone. It’s very difficult.”

“It is said that the delivery fee used to be 5 yuan, but now it is only 3 yuan. With this unit price, a delivery guy made 10,000 yuan a month. This means that this person delivered at least 111 orders a day. Even if he works 12 hours a day, he must deliver at least 9 orders an hour. This person is absolutely [being driven by work to be] a hateful person… I definitely can’t do this kind of work. If you do this to me, I will probably go crazy.”

Lastly, people post about the real costs of potentially accessing Nostr and the Internet beyond the Great Firewall.

“The so-called decentralization is a lie. There is no real decentralization. Anyone can find you on the Internet. It is easy for the Ministry of State Security (China’s equivalent of the CIA/FBI) to arrest anyone.”

3- Unlike other platforms, this is probably only possible on something like Nostr. It’s seldom that Westerners will get access to the domestic versions of Chinese social media apps. Even platforms like 小红书 (Xiaohongshu), while growing in terms of number of foreign users, is firewalled and monitored, and tends to have a center of gravity that is mostly Mandarin users as a result. TikTok and Douyin are separated completely. Western apps like X tend to attract an audience of people looking to make a point – VPNs to access the app are technically illegal in the Mainland, and while there are discussions in Mandarin, the ones in English read typically as performative theatre. 

This analysis was also only possible because Nostr allows relays to send notes/events openly. 

While Nostr certainly has its own bent (its integration with the Lightning Network, and Bitcoin-heavy discussions), it’s probably the closest today to get genuine interaction from Mainland Chinese communities and the “broader” Internet. 

4- As a Nostr user, you have a powerful tool that is built to get real conversations from around the world. I encourage everybody reading to search dashboards like Primal for the simplified Mandarin version of Bitcoin (比特币) and read onwards. There will be technical analysis, trading charts, breaking news and all of the noise that one sees in traditional “Western” coverage of Bitcoin but there will also be accounts well worth following. 

There are Mandarin language resources that can help people access Nostr and use it, which some Mainlanders have done.

The Chinese party-state has always trumped up its ability to conduct “people-to-people” exchanges. Yet perhaps it’s a network made of separate relays, run by individuals looking for censorship-proof communications, that has given the most genuine glimpse yet into what an Internet sharing “peoples” could look like and how Mainland Chinese might act if they weren’t censored beyond the Great Firewall. 

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