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    Year After Going Under, China’s Iconic Online Forum Plots a Comeback

    Announcing that it had secured the funds to restart, the online forum Tianya also revealed plans to introduce e-commerce services and paid memberships to remain financially viable.

    Almost one year since it was shut down due to declining user engagement and a financial crisis, Tianya, once China’s most popular internet forum, is poised for a comeback.

    In an announcement on Tuesday, the platform said it had secured the necessary funds to restore its network through strategic investments, resuming advertising, launching a social e-commerce platform, and offering paid additional services to members.

    As part of its strategy for long-term viability, Tianya also said it would shift focus from just its traditional bulletin board system (BBS) format to also incorporate e-commerce services.

    Founded in 1999 by former civil servant Xing Ming, Tianya grew rapidly popular among China’s first-generation internet users, peaking with 130 million registered users in 2005. It hosted discussions on a wide array of topics, from investment strategies to celebrity gossip.

    But the advent of mobile platforms and the rise of competitors such as China’s Facebook-like Renren, Q&A app Zhihu, and the microblogging platform, Weibo, shifted user preferences towards shorter content formats.

    By September 2022, Tianya’s monthly active users dwindled to just 600,000. The company was also mired in financial challenges, including debt, unpaid wages, and looming bankruptcy.

    Since May last year, nostalgic users have initiated efforts to save Tianya, including live streams on Douyin hosted by former employees, and the opening of a donation channel in its official account. The livestreams raised around 150,000 yuan, but according to Tianya’s founder Xing, these funds have not yet been transferred to the company.

    On March 1, coinciding with Tianya’s 25th anniversary, officials announced that services would restart with two separate domain names., catering to the old Tianya community and to establish an “online home for Chinese people” worldwide, and, a new platform featuring e-commerce services.

    Tianya had stated that it would first prioritize users participating in a paid membership program before opening access to the public. This includes access to the platform’s once-popular “godly posts” for 99 yuan ($14).

    These posts were renowned for their influential long-form content spanning literature to celebrity scandals, some of which became bestselling books. A second service priced at 299 yuan offers one-on-one data download services, which are currently available for pre-order to gather funds for the restart.

    Speaking to the domestic outlet Jiemian News, Xing said that while the overall positioning and functions of the “old Tianya” will remain, the platform will be streamlined. “For instance, online literature continues to be a significant direction. However, content related to current affairs, news and social livelihood will be reduced correspondingly,” he said.

    The new Tianya will also become a “global travel and fashion consumption social platform,” according to Xing, offering membership-based e-commerce services for premium members.

    As of Wednesday, discussions around Tianya’s restart amassed 9.5 million views on social media platforms, though several users remained skeptical of whether the platform would retain its nostalgic appeal.

    “This marks Tianya’s first formal self-rescue attempt by the official team. However, if this endeavor fails, it will also be its final one,” Xing told domestic media.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: VCG)