Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China’s Version of Twitter (and Why)

Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China’s Version of Twitter (and Why)

Jason Q. Ng

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 159558871X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Though often described with foreboding buzzwords such as "The Great Firewall" and the "censorship regime," Internet regulation in China is rarely either obvious or straightforward. This was the inspiration for China specialist Jason Q. Ng to write an innovative computer script that would make it possible to deduce just which terms are suppressed on China’s most important social media site, Sina Weibo. The remarkable and groundbreaking result is Blocked on Weibo, which began as a highly praised blog and has been expanded here to list over 150 forbidden keywords, as well as offer possible explanations why the Chinese government would find these terms sensitive.

As Ng explains, Weibo (roughly the equivalent of Twitter), with over 500 million registered accounts, censors hundreds of words and phrases, ranging from fairly obvious terms, including "tank" (a reference to the "Tank Man" who stared down the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square) and the names of top government officials (if they can’t be found online, they can't be criticized), to deeply obscure references, including "hairy bacon" (a coded insult referring to Mao’s embalmed body).

With dozens of phrases that could get a Chinese Internet user invited to the local police station "for a cup of tea" (a euphemism for being detained by the authorities), Blocked on Weibo offers an invaluable guide to sensitive topics in modern-day China as well as a fascinating tour of recent Chinese history.

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status quo politically. 34. “,” (Yellow River News), People’s Daily, April 25, 2007, www.sxgov.cn/xwjj/443732.shtml. 2 #dissent# #censorship# #justice# (literally, fifty cents / wǔmáo), short for (Wǔmáo Dǎng) or 50 Cent Party, is a pejorative term for Internet commentators (see page 61) hired by the Chinese government to post online comments favorable to the Communist Party and China.1 They can be sent on the offensive or defensive—that is, they will often rush in to assert their approval

criticisms of the government during the so-called Beijing Spring of 1977–78, it ended the same way Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign24 did: with arrests and suppression. The most well-known dissident, the activist Wei Jingsheng, who called for democracy to be the “Fifth Modernization”25 and criticized Deng Xiaoping in a signed essay on the wall (most posters were anonymous), was imprisoned until 1997. Thus, references to the Democracy Wall elicit memories of criticisms of the authorities as well as

the Japanese flag in a derogatory fashion. Why it is blocked: is a Chinese medicinal patch, like a large Band-Aid that comes prepackaged with an ointment used to treat aches and pains. Because the backside of many patches resembles the famous sun disc image of the Japanese flag, it is used pejoratively to refer to the Japanese flag, akin to calling the German flag Schwarz-Rot-Mostrich (“black-red-mustard”). Though technically on friendly terms today, Japan and China share a fraught past (see

advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2013/01/07/china-sina-weibo-manager-discloses-internal-censorship-practices. 45. These censorship instructions to publishers, broadcasters, and media companies have occasionally been leaked and are cataloged by China Digital Times: “Directives from the Ministry of Truth,” China Digital Times, chinadigitaltimes.net/china/directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth. 46. Tania Branigan, “China to Expand Real-Name Registration of Microbloggers,” The Guardian, January 18,

time7 (though inklings of potential censorship were hinted at as early as the previous night8). The ban was in reaction to the wild rumors that a coup was taking place in Beijing at the time, with the military intervening on Bo Xilai’s behalf (see page 118) to arrest Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Ultimately, the rumors were just that, rumors. The Los Angeles Times noted that Beijing had ordered 3,300 party cadres home for “ideological retraining” (that is, classes on how to be a proper Communist

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