Though all these volunteers have done is simply translate posts that have already cleared China’s internet-censorship regime, they have nevertheless managed to enrage Beijing. China’s Great Firewall strives to keep those behind it from seeing an online world free from censorship, barring major Western news outlets (including The Atlantic) and social media, while heavily curtailing what can and cannot be said online by domestic users. It does not, however, throw up similar barriers for those interested in peeking in. In fact, one of the only significant hurdles to accessing the Chinese internet is language skills. Those involved in the Great Translation Movement, such as Yang, hope to show an audience unfamiliar with the Chinese language some of the narratives that are officially sanctioned or gaining popular support.
Many of these narratives are very much at odds with the diplomatically projected neutrality regarding the war that comes from Beijing’s more staid official statements and speeches. After seemingly struggling to explain its position early on, China now largely focuses its narrative—pushed by state-backed outlets, pundits, and officials—on blaming the war on the United States as well as apparent efforts by NATO to encircle Russia. Additionally, translations posted by volunteers show that a belief has emerged that as Ukrainians suffer, American companies and business tycoons profit handsomely off the war at a safe distance. The longer and more drawn-out the conflict, the logic goes, the better for them.