Goldfish Memories by He Jiyan

Bruce Sterling
13 min readJun 14, 2024


*Machine-translated from a Chinese webpost on the Internet Archive, because this post was almost immediately censored and obliterated in China. It appeared (and disappeared) in May 2024.

Let me ask you a little question first:

If we search for the word “Jack Ma” on Baidu and set the time from 1998 to 2005, how many pieces of information can we find? Is it 100 million, 10 million, or 1 million?

I asked in several groups, and the general guess was that it should be in the millions or tens of millions. After all, there is so much information on the Internet. As a revolutionary entrepreneur of that era, Jack Ma must have left a lot of traces on the Internet.

But in fact all the results that can be found are as follows:

Using Baidu search, the selected date range is “May 22, 1998 to May 22, 2005”, which contains information about Jack Ma. There is a total of 1 piece (data on May 22, 2024).

And this only piece of information is also false. When you click in, you will find that the publication time of the article is actually 2021, which does not belong to the time period limited above. It is just that for some reason, it was searched out inexplicably.

In other words, if we want to understand Jack Ma’s experiences, reports, people’s discussions about him, his speeches, the company’s development history, etc. during that period, the amount of effective original information we can get is zero.

You may think, is this a Baidu problem? If I switch to Bing or Google, will I be able to find it?

I have tested that the effective information retrieved by these two websites is not much different from Baidu. It is slightly more than Baidu, but it is only single digits. Most of them are also invalid information with time disorder, but they were captured by mistake for unknown technical reasons.

You may also wonder, is it because Jack Ma is a relatively controversial person, and for some indescribable reason, his information cannot be found?

But in fact, this is not just the case with Jack Ma. We search for Ma Huateng, Lei Jun, Ren Zhengfei, etc., and even Internet celebrities like Luo Yonghao and Sister Furong who were very popular at that time, or like Jay Chou and Li Yuchun who once became popular all over the Internet. Celebrities, the results are the same. For example, in the case of the Lei Search Army, the result is as follows:

After testing different websites, different names, and different time periods, I discovered a shocking phenomenon:

Almost all Chinese websites that were popular in that era, such as NetEase, Sohu, Campus BBS, Xici Hutong, Kaidi Maoyan, Tianya Forum, (Renren), Sina Blog, Baidu Tieba, and a large number of personal websites, etc. Information before a certain year has completely disappeared, and even information from most websites for all years has disappeared. The only exception is Sina. Some information from more than ten years ago can still be found, but it is only a very small number. More than 99.9999% of the other content has disappeared.

No one is aware of a serious problem: the Chinese Internet is rapidly collapsing, and the Chinese Internet content before the advent of the mobile Internet has almost disappeared.

We originally thought that the Internet had memory, but we did not expect that this memory turned out to be a memory like a goldfish.


The reason why I noticed this problem is because the theme of He Jiayan’s public account is to study outstanding people, so I need to look up their information frequently.

In the past two years, I have a very obvious feeling: the original information available on the Internet is decreasing at a cliff-like rate every year. I could still see some original reports before, but then they gradually disappeared; I could still find the speeches or articles written by the protagonists before, but then I couldn’t find them anymore; I could still see many videos of interviews or conversations before, but later they slowly disappeared.

There seems to be a monster that devours web pages. It follows the timeline of history, from the past to the present, first in small bites, and then in big mouths, swallowing up all the content of the Chinese Internet in five or ten years.

When we come back to our senses, we will find that everything on the Chinese Internet that existed before the mobile Internet, whether it is portal websites, official institutional websites, personal web pages, campus BBS, public forums, Sina blogs, Baidu Tieba, or Documents, photos, music, videos, etc., have all disappeared.

I remember that more than ten years ago, because I changed computers, I packed some photos and articles into a compressed package and stored them on a BBS. A few years later, I discovered that the entire BBS was gone. I once used a hotmail mailbox, and there were many precious emails in it, but later they were all gone. I also wrote about Renren and MySpace, but they were all gone.

We once thought that the Internet could preserve everything, but the result was that nothing could be preserved.

This reminds me of the “two-way foil” mentioned in Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem”. The Singers civilization discovered the existence of intelligent creatures in the solar system. Out of the elimination instinct of the advanced civilization in the universe, they threw a two-way foil into the solar system. As a result, the entire solar system collapsed from three dimensions to two dimensions at the speed of light, changing into a sheet of paper. It resembles Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting. All traces of life and civilization will no longer exist.

On the internet, we’re already in the midst of a two-way devouring of foil. This kind of two-way foil can be called the “two-way foil of time”, and what it swallows is the dimension of time.

After the solar system was flattened by the two-way foil of the Singer’s civilization, a picture of the “Starry Sky” was left behind. However, after the Internet was swallowed up by the two-way foil of time, only a void was left.


Why does this happen? I guess the main reasons may be two reasons:

One is economic reasons.

The existence of a website requires servers, bandwidth, computer rooms, personnel for operation and maintenance, and many miscellaneous supervision and maintenance fees. These are all costs. If it has strategic value (for example, the information the company wants to display needs to be displayed to the outside world), or has short-term traffic value (for example, more people come to watch from time to time), and the company is not short of money in its account, then there will be Motivation to maintain.

But if the company takes a detour in business and runs out of money, the entire website will die directly. For example, Renren is a typical representative.

Even if the company still has money, from an operational perspective, if few people click on a web page all year round, it will become a burden to the company. The most economically rational way is to shut it down directly. This is the reason why Sohu and NetEase lost a large amount of their early content, as well as the collective demise of BBS represented by Tianya Forum.

The second is regulatory reasons.

Generally speaking, the supervision of Internet information is a process from scratch, from lenient to strict, and from strict to more stringent. Content that could exist legally in the past no longer meets regulatory requirements; or content that could exist in gray before was later defined as black. These contents will be clicked directly.

Others are that as the times change, the polarization of public opinion becomes more and more extreme. Content that was “just normal” in the past has become very sharp and sensitive in the subsequent public opinion environment. Although it is not illegal, it may intensify conflicts. If it creates chaos, regulators may also ask for it to be dealt with.

Generally speaking, the supervision of Internet information is a process from scratch, from lenient to strict, and from strict to more stringent. Content that could exist legally in the past no longer meets regulatory requirements; or content that could exist in gray before was later defined as black. These contents will be clicked directly.

In addition to official departments, angry netizens also act as public opinion regulators from time to time. They will dig out a sentence that someone accidentally said more than ten years ago, hold on to it, and bring people online to “social death.”

But the most important impact of regulation is not the handling of regulatory authorities or the attacks of angry netizens, but the “self-censorship” they will cause companies and individuals.

Because no one knows which piece of content exists on the website or which sentence someone once said will bring disaster to the person concerned a few years later. The best way is to directly eliminate all these potential “time bombs”, that is, shut down the website or delete all the content.

Of course, in addition to the above two reasons, there will be many other reasons.

For example, shortly after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, all web content under the international domain name “yu” (abbreviation of Yugoslavia) disappeared. Another example is that with the strengthening of copyright protection, music and movie websites that were once available for downloading have disappeared. There are also some institutions and individuals who, purely for their own reasons, do not want to display information to the outside world, so they close their official websites or personal homepages, etc.

But these reasons are secondary and local. The systematic and large-scale disappearance of content on the entire Internet is mainly due to economic laws and self-censorship.

In essence, Internet content, like life, is governed by the theory of evolution. There is only one criterion for its existence: to gain as much attention as possible at the lowest possible cost.

When a piece of content can capture enough attention among the massive content on the Internet, and the cost of maintaining this content (including economic cost, regulatory cost and cost of fighting regulation) is lower than other methods, this content is possible to survive on the Internet. It’s just that it may change its presentation method, such as changing from text to pictures, from still pictures to moving pictures, from moving pictures to videos, and in the future it may change from two-dimensional videos to three-dimensional holographic videos, etc. The platforms that carry this content will also change, from portals to BBS, to personal blogs, to Weibo and WeChat, to Douyin video accounts, and possibly to a platform we don’t know about in the future.

When a piece of content no longer attracts enough attention, or the cost of maintaining the content is higher than it would otherwise be, the content disappears from the Internet. The collective demise of the traditional Internet, which uses computers as browsers and web pages as carriers, is nothing but the inevitable result of this “information evolution competition.”

The secret of biological evolution is “natural selection, survival of the fittest”, while the secret of the evolution of Internet content is “information competition, attention selection, survival of the fittest”. Due to the network effect, this kind of competition is ten thousand times more fierce and cruel than nature. The traditional Internet is not the extinction of a single species, but the overall extinction of almost all content.

With the rise of every new generation of the Internet, the old Internet will inevitably collapse. The two-way foil of time is the inevitable fate of all websites and all content.


If the future civilization is the civilization of the Internet. Our generation will have no history. Because the Internet leaves no trace of us.

“No history”, is this important?

Of course it’s important.

In order to write an article about Shao Yibo, I tried every means to find the original video of Shao Yibo participating in the “Bos Hall” program in 2007, as well as the several videos his wife Bao Jiaxin posted on the Babytree community under the online name “Wen Ai Mommy” year’s posts. In the end, I still couldn’t find it, so I can only deeply regret it.

Although the article “Shao Yibo Has Been Forgotten” is still very popular, with more than 700,000 people reading it and more than 20,000 people retweeting it in just one week, I am very sure that I must have missed some very important information. If they could be presented in that article, the quality of the article would be better.

But I couldn’t find it, so the article could only be presented in an imperfect way.

You may think: This is only useful for researchers and writers like He Jiyan. I don’t write such articles. If there is no Internet information, it will be gone, and it will have no impact on me.


If we can no longer see all of Jack Ma’s speeches, all of Ren Zhengfei’s articles represented by “My Father and Mother” and “A River of Spring Flows East”, and all of Duan Yongping’s posts on Snowball, don’t you think it’s a pity?

Well, you said you didn’t feel sorry for it.

So if we can’t find Huang Zheng’s official account, can’t see Zhang Yiming’s Weibo, and can’t get on Wang Xing’s fan, would you feel a little regretful?

Well, you said you don’t feel sorry either.

So if one day Zhihu disappears like Tianya Forum, Douban disappears like Renren, and Bilibili disappears like Sina Blog, will you feel a little heartbroken?

If one day, all the Weibo posts of your favorite Weibo blogger only show “The author has set up to only display Weibo posts within half a year, this Weibo is no longer visible”, and the public accounts you often read only show “This account has been blocked” , the content cannot be viewed”, you search for some information on Douyin or Xiaohongshu, and the result shows “The author has cleared all content”…

Even Weibo, public accounts, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu, just like BBS, Tieba, Space, and blogs that once existed, have all disappeared…

Would you feel bad about this even for a brief minute?

As a generation of traditional Internet, those born in the 1970s and 1980s can no longer retrieve our history. Because they have all disappeared.

The new generation may still be able to check Moments, but their Moments are becoming more and more “visible for three days” and becoming more and more silent.

The only one who is still posting enthusiastically is just a piece of marketing information.

In the future, even these marketing messages will eventually die.


If something is important to us and it is dying, is there anything we can do to save it?

Someone has made such an attempt. There is a website in the United States called “Internet Archive”, which is translated into Chinese as “Internet Archive”, which saves many original web pages. But I tried it, and found that very few of the original Chinese web pages were saved, and it was very troublesome to use. The search function was very primitive and inefficient, almost as if it had not been saved.

From a technical perspective, it should not be difficult or expensive to save all the web pages from the beginning of the Internet in China to the rise of the mobile Internet in the past ten years. After all, compared with the current video era, those graphic and text web pages of the original Internet, the space occupied is almost negligible.

The question is, who would do it and with what motives?

Commercial organizations won’t do it. Because there is no commercial interest.

The government may be able to build an archive that can save all web pages, just like it builds libraries and museums. But why does the government spend so much money and effort to do this? There seems to be no reason other than to preserve history. Besides, even if the government does this, it will not mean anything to ordinary netizens, because this archive will definitely require certain login permissions to prevent the information from being abused.

Moreover, even if there are organizations willing to do this, it is too late now. After the rise of mobile Internet, Chinese content on the traditional Internet has almost disappeared. A rough estimate is that more than 99% of them are gone.

In a sense, the series of articles about outstanding people written by He Jiajian also made some contributions to preserving the history of the existence of these outstanding people. If I hadn’t written about them, much of the history would have been lost online. But after all, this is not original information, just second-hand information that I have integrated.

On the current Chinese Internet, all the major events that happened in the first ten years of this century and all the celebrities who left deep traces. The information that can still be found is almost all second-hand information edited by self-media, or even The information has been passed down through many hands and has long been changed beyond recognition.

The original reports about them are gone, the original videos are gone, the original speeches are gone, the original netizens’ witnesses are gone, the original comments are gone…

In a few years, this second-hand information and N-hand information will also disappear. It’s like those events never happened and those people never existed.

There is nothing we can do but accept reality.

In the future Internet era, looking back at the first two decades of the 21st century, there will be no historical records.

We are a generation that has disappeared in the Internet era.

If you can still see some ancient information on the Chinese Internet, it is just the last ray of the sunset.

If you understand their ephemerality, you may sigh like Faust before his death:

You are so beautiful, please stay for a moment.

But that afterglow, together with your sigh, will soon be swallowed up by the two-way foil of time and fall into the void.

In “The Three-Body Problem”, Cheng Xin and Ai AA were lucky enough to ride on the only curvature spacecraft to escape from the two-dimensional solar system.

And we don’t even have a curvature spacecraft.

There is no escape.

Almost everything you see and create now, together with this article and this platform, will eventually be submerged in the void.

— -end — -

PS: Follow He Jiajian and read the previous outstanding articles of this public account. Maybe you can also see a lot of information that has disappeared elsewhere. I will continue to work hard, continue to write great stories, and strive to retain as much light as possible in the afterglow of the setting sun.