Is Midjourney's Arrival in China Just Fake News?

An account claiming to be the official Chinese version of AI image-generator Midjourney arrived and disappeared overnight. Now, some believe it was a well-produced replica, while others are pointing fingers at regulatory officials

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Hayley Zhao
6:04 AM HKT, Sat May 20, 2023 2 mins read

On May 15, AI art creators in China felt a burst of excitement upon reading that Midjourney, the leading AI-image generator, was launching in China, opening registration to a limited number of users.

However, the excitement didn’t last long. The announcement vanished shortly after is was published, and some users are questioning the legitimacy of the account it came from.

A now-deleted post on WeChat from the new account “Midjourney China” had invited creators to sign up on QQ, an app which is similar to Discord, the platform where Midjourney operates overseas. The channel stated it would open for signup at 6:00 PM on Mondays and Fridays, with a limited number of spaces available.

The Monday slot filled up quickly on May 15, before users started to sense something fishy. A user who goes by “Architect who loves basketball” successfully signed up on Monday, only to find that Midjourney’s QQ channel had a different subscription model compared to its internationally-available version.

The user wrote in a WeChat post of his own that, after using up their 25 free trial credits, users were asked to subscribe to the basic plan at 68 RMB (around 10 USD) to receive 200 image credits each month. Although the price tag is similar to Midjourney’s price overseas, the international version of the software doesn’t put a cap on the number of images generated, but instead limits usage time for each account.

midjourney pricing

Midjourney’s subscription plan, listed on its official site

Searching up the registration information for “Midjourney China” on WeChat revealed that the company behind the account, Pengyuhui, was founded last October in Nanjing. Little information about the company can be found online.

According to The Paper, a state-backed publication based in Shanghai, sources at Tencent revealed that QQ has not entered into any official collaboration with a “Midjourney China.” Rather, the channel had joined QQ as a third-party client.

At this point, nothing is certain. Sanyan Technology, a tech-focused online publication, pointed out that Midjourney had previously revealed plans to enter the Chinese market. Those plans included opening a service on QQ, as revealed in the company's weekly office hour minutes on Discord.

It’s possible that the current QQ version could be the real Midjourney, doing beta testing on a small scale before an official launch in China. The team behind Midjourney is very small, so it could make sense to collaborate with a small Chinese company before rolling out their service in full. In this take, Midjourney only deleted the announcement and closed signups because they were overwhelmed by the number of registrations.

However, not everyone is buying it. “Architect who loves basketball” posted another article on WeChat on May 17, disputing the notion that Midjourney China could be the real deal. He claimed to have had a conversation with the real Midjourney team on Discord, where he asked about the legitimacy of Midjourney China. According to the screengrabs he provided, Midjourney employees confirmed that “Midjourney QQ is in early closed alpha testing phase,” and that users should “assume any link [they] see is untrustworthy.”

China's tech sphere is notorious for its rigid regulation, which can make entry difficult for foreign companies. But was this a case of strict regulation, or of opportunistic deception?

RADII can’t confirm the authenticity of the screenshots shared. But these days, you can’t be too careful about handing out your credit card information – especially in the fast-moving, holographic world of AI.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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