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2021-02-03 14:32:01

Update: As of 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, the Clubhouse app was no longer accessible on the Chinese mainland without a VPN or other tunneling service, and mainland users can no longer receive the text message verification codes required to register new accounts.

Clubhouse, a by-invitation-only new social media app featuring live audio chat rooms, is seeing its popularity soar among Chinese users, with invitation codes for the San Francisco-based startup in high demand on the domestic sales platforms.

On microblogging platform Weibo, one of China’s two dominant social media apps, users have been commiserating about how difficult it’s been for them to score a coveted invite, with a related hashtag viewed more than 14 million times by Wednesday evening. On e-commerce site Taobao and its secondhand platform Xianyu, Clubhouse invitation codes are priced at anywhere from 60 to 700 yuan ($9 to $108).

The hype for Clubhouse, now valued at $1 billion after launching on Apple’s iOS App Store in April, sky-rocketed after billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk opened his own chat room on Sunday. During the ensuing 90-minute session, Musk discussed his daily routine, the future of his electric car company Tesla, and more with the thousands of Clubhouse users who tuned in.

For Chinese people, Clubhouse offers the possibility of parlaying with key opinion leaders or even celebrities. But to register, they need to switch to a U.S. app store, register an account using their phone number, and secure an invite by either persevering through a long waitlist or currying favor with existing users, each of whom is allocated two invitation codes.

I don’t think Clubhouse will enter the Chinese market. And even if it does, it will disappear very quickly.

Since Monday, chat groups of people seeking Clubhouse invites have proliferated on messaging app WeChat. Sun Ivy, the administrator of one such group with around 300 members, told Sixth Tone that she bought a Clubhouse invitation code for 300 yuan on Xianyu.

“After joining Clubhouse, I started a chat room on raising pets. I actually got a lot out of the session because the current user base is still quite selective and niche,” said Sun, who added that she also saw a chat room for women hoping to be “adopted” by sugar daddies, suggesting there isn’t much content screening happening on the platform.

“Once you’re in, there are very few restrictions,” Sun said. “I can’t help but wonder why it’s still accessible in China.”

Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication, told Sixth Tone that most of Clubhouse’s current users come from the tech industry, and the app’s appeal to Chinese people may come down to FOMO, or fear of missing out.

“I don’t think Clubhouse will enter the Chinese market,” Fang said, referring to the platform’s hypothetical debut on domestic app stores. “And even if it does, it will disappear very quickly.”

According to a recent report, Clubhouse now has 2 million users, but some in China hoping to join these ranks say they’re having trouble receiving the text message verification codes required to register new accounts.

“After several attempts, I still didn’t get a verification code,” said one of several people reporting such issues in Sun’s group. “Perhaps it has something to do with the phone operator? I may call them and check, but I’m not sure if it’ll help.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Sixth Tone)