Ways to say "China" that can circumvent the censors

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China's netizens are endlessly resourceful in coming up with clever terms to refer to almost anything that can evade the omnipresent censors — at least for awhile.  We're all familiar with the "Grass Mud Horse" and the "Franco-Croatian Squid".

Strange as it may seem (!), they sometimes feel the need to say something critical about China, but to do so they have to evade the censors who will catch them, invoking the wrath of the almighty government.  So now they have figured out various ways to refer to China without using the name of their country, Zhōngguó 中国 ("Central Kingdom, i.e., China") or Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó 中华人民共和国 ("People's Republic of China").

Here are some clever ways to refer to "China" on the Chinese internet that can still circumvent the censors:

Xī Cháoxiǎn 西朝鲜 ("West Korea")

Cíguó 瓷国 ("porcelain / china country")

Dà cíguó 大瓷国 (" great porcelain / china country")

See here for an article using the latter term.

Just today I learned another circumlocution that is widely used by netizens to avoid the internet police:  tiāncháo 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court").  Since this expression can be used in a number of different ways, I'll spell some of them out.

1. to satirize the government

2. to mock themselves (the netizens) as citizens of such a place

3. just for the sake of levity

4. in a patriotic spirit

5. to criticize bureaucratic corruption

6. to make fun of the hapless people who are oppressed by such venal officials

When the netizens use this expression, 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court"), they are likely to refer to the citizens of such a government as:

a. cǎomín 草民 ("grass people" — as insignificant as blades of grass; "the rabble")

b. yǐmín 蚁民 ("ant people")

c. Pmín P民 ("P people", i.e., pìmín 屁民 ["fart people; shitizens"])

To make the loathing even more vicious, tiāncháo 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court") can also be given the graphic form 兲朝, which has the same sound and superficially conveys the same meaning, has the added implication that a "king" ( 王) is at the top of the government.  Even worse, 兲 conveys the notion of "bastard", since it is made up of wáng 王 ("king") + bā 八 ("eight"), a standard pun for wàngbà(dàn) 忘爸蛋 ("bastard; son of a bitch")

See all the swear words related to eggs here and here.

[h.t. Sanping Chen; thanks to Fangyi Cheng]


  1. Jongseong Park said,

    November 28, 2015 @ 3:36 pm

    In pre-modern Korea, 天朝 (천조 cheonjo in Sino-Korean pronunciation) traditionally referred to the Chinese court (at least, when a unified court existed and was not held by "barbarians", or specifically the Ming dynasty) in keeping with the Sinocentric worldview of the time.

    This use is obscure for most Koreans today, but a recently popular expression used for the U.S. on the internet is 천조국 cheonjoguk, which is usually taken to come from 天朝國 "heavenly court state", although there are some differing opinions on this. One suggestion I keep seeing on the internet is that it is actually 千兆國 "thousand trillion (=quadrillion) state", so called because the U.S. military budget is close to a quadrillion Korean won. I don't find this especially convincing, and it seems more like folk etymology by people who are not familiar with the term 天朝.

    If the 天朝國 explanation is correct, then the jocular implication is that the U.S. has taken the place as the centre of the world. A typical use would be in connection with the superpower status of the U.S., especially its military might, or just the sheer size of the U.S.: a picture of American aircraft carriers, a map of the U.S. with individual states labelled with countries whose GDPs they match, etc. It is often used in the phrase 천조국의 위엄(威嚴) "the majesty of the heavenly court state". I think there is a large overlap with the situations where Americans would say "Fuck yeah U.S.A.", except with an outsider's point of view of course.

    This is just normal internet slang, by the way, not a circumlocution to evade censorship as is the case in China (most Korean internet users being outside of Chinese censors' reach, of course). Though I do wonder how much the Chinese authorities bother with censoring content in Korean and other non-Chinese languages within their reach.

  2. The Other Mark said,

    November 28, 2015 @ 6:08 pm

    Though I do wonder how much the Chinese authorities bother with censoring content in Korean

    I would guess a great deal. There are two million or so Korean speakers in the PRC. With the friction between North and South Korea one of the most worrisome flashpoints for China, they are unlikely to give them free rein.

  3. liuyao said,

    November 29, 2015 @ 12:56 am

    I wouldn't say tianchao is to avoid censorship, just a fun way to express "our country" or rather "our dynasty," with implication that China has not changed all that much from the imperial era in many aspects. Associated with this term are didu for Beijing, taizu for Mao and taizong for Deng.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 29, 2015 @ 7:46 am

    As pointed out in the original post, tiāncháo 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court") can be used in many different ways. It is a double / triple / quadruple edged sword.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:02 pm

    Great entry on 景德镇 (Jǐngdé Zhèn): Jingde Town (a famous kiln in Chinese history) from China Digital Times' Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, with many interesting links.


  6. anon said,

    December 4, 2015 @ 5:57 pm

    If the Chinese sensors read Language Log, they can update their scripts accordingly.

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