It can be difficult to gain a view of the mind of the CCP, but Blocked On Weibo by Jason Q. Ng manages it. He lists words and phrases which are blocked on the Chinese social media site Sina Weibo (its akin to Facebook or Twitter) and explains why. The words are roughly categorized by the reason they are blocked which vary from political meanings to sexual to unfathomable. Beyond the typical thought police style attempt to prevent vulgar ideas two of the main topics which are censored are CCP criticisms and discussions of the censorship itself. Some representative words which are blocked are the “35th of May”, “Jiang YanYong”, “Grass Mud Horse” and “River Crab”.
35th of May – 五月三十五
This is a word play on June 4th, the day of the Tienanmen Square Massacre in 1989. This word shows the battle between political censors and the people very well. People use Weibo to talk about the June 4th incident to which the CCP responds by censoring June 4th. People then came up with witty code words to get around the censors, but the CCP invests such man power in stifling any discussion that it seems even many of those words are squashed. It was recently revealed in the Chinese media that the CCP hires two million internet monitors to implement their censorship, such cost shows their determination to prevent any discussion of embarrassing topics.
Jiang YanYong – 蒋彦永
This is the name of a doctor who led the 301st Military Hospital in Beijing in the early 2000s. During the first months of the SARS epidemic in 2002 the CCP attempted to hide the size of the breakout and the severity of the disease. Jiang YanYong was a whistle blower who broke the blackout by sending an overview of the medical situation to media outlets. He was given a prestigious international award for forcing action which prevented the disease from reaching pandemic proportion, but after publishing a letter about the June 4th Incident was put under house arrest. One of the core jobs of the Weibo censorship program is preventing complaints directed at the CCP and the initial CCP response to the SARS situation is very damning.
Grass Mud Horse and River Crab – 草泥马和河蟹
These are funny puns on other words that have taken on a life of their own. 草泥马 means “Grass Mud Horse” in a nonsensical kind of way, but is a pun on phrase that is used like “F— you”. The CCP censors the vulgar phrase so people have taken to using this alternate spelling of the sounds.
In a similar way 河蟹 sounds like the previous president’s catch phrase of Harmony (和谐). After people starting saying that their censored or deleted Weibo posts had been “harmonized” the censors added harmony to the list of censored words, leading to the use of River Crab as an alternate. The funniest part of these two words is that they took off as memes in their own right. People have come up with whole back stories describing the battle between the Grass Mud Horse and the River Crab! Who will win?
The book is a short read and filled with interesting topics. By seeing what the CCP doesn’t want talked about you can gain an insight into the CCP itself, and the closed nature of the CCP means that any insight into its thought process is fascinating. Ng has a blog of the same name as his book which he keeps up to date with new words he finds censored, check it out!