The Cartoon Cat Driving China Censors Mad

By Charlene Badasie | Updated

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When anti-lockdown protests broke out across China in November 2022, a cartoon cat on X became an unlikely hero. This cat wasn’t just any ordinary feline. It was the avatar for “Teacher Li Is Not Your Teacher,” an account providing real-time updates on the ground in China. Behind this account was not a team of journalists but a single art school student named Li Ying, who was operating from his bedroom in Italy.

One Person That Had No Interest In Politics

The origin of Teacher Li’s account is as compelling as its impact. Initially, Li Ying was just another young creative in China, using the Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo to share love stories. Li, the son of two art teachers, had no interest in politics.

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 barely registered on his radar. It was the Covid-19 pandemic that dramatically changed his trajectory.

Refuses To Be Silenced

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As China enforced severe lockdowns, Teacher Li, who was studying at a prestigious art school in Italy, scoured the internet to understand the increasingly dire situation back home. He discovered shocking stories of starvation and suicides as people struggled under the crushing weight of the lockdowns. Disturbed by these reports, he began discussing them on Weibo.

His posts attracted hundreds of followers who started sharing their personal stories with him. These candid revelations also caught the attention of the censors, leading to his account being repeatedly shut down. Refusing to be silenced, Teacher Li engaged in a relentless cat-and-mouse game with Chinese authorities, creating new Weibo accounts each time one was blocked.

Finally Found A Platform


After 53 attempts, he switched to Twitter (now X), where the censors could not easily reach him. Li’s account found a new lease on life, unbound by China’s restrictive internet controls and accessible through virtual private networks. Teacher Li’s account exploded in popularity during the White Paper protests against China’s stringent zero-Covid policies in late 2022.

His feed became a vital source of protest footage, police movements, and news of arrests. At the height of the protests, Teacher Li’s inbox was inundated with messages every second, requiring him to work around the clock to verify and post updates. His efforts resonated with millions, racking up hundreds of millions of views.

China’s Crackdown

However, Teacher Li’s newfound prominence came with significant risks. Li faced online death threats from anonymous accounts, and Chinese authorities harassed his parents back home. Despite these challenges, he believed that life would return to normal once the protests ended. Instead, he found that his bank accounts in China were frozen, signaling that he could never go back.

According to Teacher Li, the Chinese government’s attempts to silence him have been relentless, culminating in a coordinated campaign of intimidation. Li has received threatening calls, and his personal information has been leaked online. Although the Chinese government has not responded to these allegations, the tactics Li describes are well-documented by activists and rights groups.

Government Harrassment Isn’t Limited To China


Sadly, Teacher Li’s plight is part of a broader pattern of transnational repression. Governments like China, faced with increasingly vocal and interconnected diaspora communities, have escalated efforts to silence dissent abroad. This repression often involves harassment and surveillance, as seen in Li’s case. Reports from various countries, including the U.S. and Australia, highlight similar tactics.

Continuing The Fight For Free Speech

Still, Li remains undeterred. He moves frequently within Italy, rarely leaves home, and survives on donations and social media earnings. Teacher Li is dedicated to his work, which he believes exposes the harsh realities of life under an authoritarian regime.  By going public with his story, Li aims to shed light on China’s repressive tactics and inspire others to continue the fight for freedom of expression.

“I don’t see myself as a hero,” Li told the BBC. “I was only doing what I thought was the right thing at the time. What I’ve demonstrated is that an ordinary person can also do these things.” Until he is silenced, Teacher Li, the cartoon cat driving China’s censors mad, will keep fighting.

Source: BBC