On March 1, 2020, Archive of Our Own was blocked in China.
Their Weibo message is:
[Google Translate:] In the past few hours, we have received many enquiries about users in mainland China not being able to access archiveofourown.org. Some users also said that they can access AO3 using the website ao3.org. We are troubleshooting with our volunteers. For the time being, it seems to be due to the disconnection of the supplier (China Unicom, Telecom, etc.) when connecting the local network to the overseas network. We don’t know if this is due to a brief unplanned outage of supplier services or a long-term access restriction. Since this connection problem was not caused by the AO3 server, we have no way to solve this problem. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Although, as of this writing, the Wikipedia entry about AO3 attributes the blocking “to the critics of Xiao Zhan against the website fanfic writers who wrote about him,” Aja Romano’s Vox report says the timing of that kerfuffle is just coincidental, and the real reason is the effective date of China’s new internet rules: “China has censored the Archive of Our Own, one of the internet’s largest fanfiction websites”.
…The news immediately spawned unverified rumors that one of China’s biggest recent fandoms had inspired the ban. The Untamed is an internationally popular 2019 Chinese web series based on a queer romance novel originally published online. And there are more than 14,000 fanfics related to The Untamed on AO3. The rumors, which surfaced from within the Chinese internet, involved the large adjacent fandom for The Untamed’s main actor, Xiao Zhan, and focused on unsubstantiated reports of a harassment campaign launched by critics of Xiao Zhan against AO3 fanfic writers who wrote about him.
The Untamed premiered on Netflix in October and has only grown its following since then, while Xiao Zhan has become a huge celebrity since the show’s release. So the idea that fanfiction about the actor had led to the reported censorship of AO3 within China brought widespread alarm, finger-pointing, and outcry, with fans issuing calls to “protect Xiao Zhan” from further harassment. On March 1, after a day of online outrage, Xiao’s studio reportedly issued a public apology for “occupying public resources.”
But although the rumors wreaked havoc within The Untamed’s fandom (amid simultaneous attempts to halt the spread of misinformation) it seems very likely that the timing was purely coincidental. It’s more likely that AO3 became a target of China’s ongoing attempts to suppress queer and explicit media content, as a part of its larger dedicated pattern of internet censorship.
As Variety reported in January (“China’s New Internet Censorship Rules Outline Direction For Content”) –
Chinese authorities have approved a new set of comprehensive regulations that expand the scope of online censorship, emphasize the war against “negative” content and make platforms more liable for content violations.
While China previously had numerous, separate regulations floating about for everything from live-streaming to news media to chat groups, the new “Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem” consolidate them into a more coherent system of global rules for everything that happens on the country’s Internet. The new rules were approved in mid-December and will take effect in March.
Variety has a complete overview of the rules. This is the part AO3 seems most likely to have run afoul of —
… The new regulations then go on to dictate that content producers must “employ measures to prevent and resist the making, reproduction or publication of negative information.” This includes the following: the “use of exaggerated titles,” gossip, “improper comments on natural disasters, major accidents, or other disasters,” anything with “sexual innuendo” or that is “readily associated with sex,” gore or horror, or things that would push minors towards behaviors that are unsafe or “violate social mores.” Negative content, it concludes broadly, is actually just anything at all that would have a “negative impact” on the Internet ecosystem.
Romano also told Vox readers the latest development may have been inevitable:
Then again, it’s likely that AO3 would have been censored with or without the new law taking effect, because China has in recent years been cracking down on queer and sexually explicit online content — both of which AO3 has in abundance.