This afternoon I received in the mail the following book:
Jason Q. Ng. Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China's Version of Twitter (and Why). New York and London: The New Press, 2013.
In this wonderful volume, Jason Q. Ng runs all the terms in the Chinese-language version of Wikpedia through the search function of Sina Weibo to discover which ones are censored. The results are mind-boggling in their ramifications.
The presentation is straightforward and clear. At the top of each page is the objectionable term in characters. That is followed by a section in which Ng transcribes the characters into Hanyu Pinyin and then translates the term into English if appropriate. He also provides explanatory notes, including historical background and literary allusions. Then comes a section under the rubric "Why it is blocked".
The reasons for blocking a given term are often arcane and convoluted beyond belief. They also evince a level of paranoia on the part of the Chinese Communist Party that would be ludicrous, were it not so damaging to open discussion in the People's Republic of China.
The book is replete with scholarly annotations that are useful for further research.
What emerges from Ng's study is that in China (at least not on China's Twitter) you can not talk about Tibet, Falun Gong, "outstanding thing", "inject", "captcha", "Hoobastank", "Zhina" (=China), "river crab" (I think that all Language Log readers know why), "Wöhler" or "Villar", "white powder", "Jiang Zemin", "Milarepa", "coup d'état", "cunt", "Shanghai Gang / Clique", ҉ [U+0489], "Goddess of Democracy", "Pangu / PunkGod", "Victoria", "internet commentators / monitoring", "meow", "without hair" (= shaved pussy), "lesbian", "Demerol", "Peng Liyuan" (wife of the current president), "Fei Xiaotong" (most famous anthropologist of the 20th century), "Bo Xilai", Mein Kampf, "AIDS village", "leave the Party", "Song Zuying" (famous soprano of Miao ethnicity), "parade / demonstration / march", "satellite television", "labor strike", "organizer", "charter", "Twitter", "never forget", "empty stool" (= Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate), "May Fourth Movement" (an important component of which was to urge successfully the adoption of vernacular over Classical Chinese), "student leader", Dynamic China, "Radio Free Asia", "Independent Chinese PEN", "tank", "massacre", "plain clothes", "persecution", "9-11 attacks", "blockade", "machete", "Kashgar", "Kucha", "HMX" (= octogen), "wound", "East Chang'an Avenue", "cobalt-60", "hair bacon", "calico cat", "Canadian French", "Islam", "Lucky Star" (manga), "warlord", "medicine patch flag", "sky burial", "sensitive", "Communist dog", "dry your mother" (Language Log readers know about that one too), "Sacred Heart Cathedral", "flood control monument", "Bloomberg", "augment / supplement", "black / dark angel", "leopard colored", and countless other terms that are considered by the Communist authorities to be sensitive or objectionable. (That was true for the period 2011-2012, but as the political winds shift, some words are unblocked while new ones are added. Pp. 213-221 give a list of all the terms in the book with Weibo blocked status as of October, 2012.)
If you're curious about why all of these terms are blocked, run out and buy the book, or head to Ng's blog for a sampling.
Here's the corresponding blog which provides additional data and even more up-to-date details.
This is an example (p. 146 in the book, but here taken from Ng's blog [May 28, 2013] so that I didn't have to retype it) of one of the simpler entries:
快闪党 (flash mob / kuài shǎn dǎng) is a “public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again.” Though the concept has existed in the past, the modern version was popularized by former Harper’s editor Bill Wasik, who organized a series of gatherings throughout New York City in 2003. They were mostly social experiments or a sort of performance art, and soon spread across the globe. This is in contrast to a “smart mob,” which is more directed and typically has a goal, the dîner en blanc phenomenon for instance, where people dress in all white and gather at specified locations for a secret dinner.
Why it is blocked: Even though most flash mobs do nothing more harmful than show off a few Michael Jackson pelvic thrusts, Chinese authorities still fear the idea of large numbers of people organizing in public spaces, perhaps viewing it as training for future political gatherings (the distinction between a flash mob and a protest hinges on the intention, but execution-wise, they are quite similar: see for instance the 散步 / “take a walk” demonstrations). Flash mobs, though often harmless and playful, have caused disorder and even violence in other countries, a situation Chinese authorities no doubt are keen to avert. (Flash mob is currently blocked on Weibo.)
Many of the entries in the book are longer and more elaborate, but even the relatively short ones (the entries average about a page in length) provide much food for thought.
This is a fascinating study with important implications for anyone who is interested in the intellectual and political climate of contemporary China. Highly recommended.