The face of censorship

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Here's what it looks like:

The page they are talking about is this one, the article I mention at the very beginning of this post:

"More literary troubles for Xi Jinping" (1/3/19)

Although the censors do not tell you precisely what the "non-compliant content" is, they undoubtedly do not want Chinese readers encountering satire directed at President Xi Jinping over his alleged inappropriate quotation from a poem that is nearly two thousand years old.

For those who have not heard of it, WeChat (in Chinese it's called Wēixìn 微信 (lit. "micro-message") is a multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app.  It has over 1 billion monthly active users (902 million daily active users), and people use it to pay bills, buy things, text, make video calls, send money, etc., etc.  It's China's "app for everything".  So if something gets censored on WeChat — and many things do get censored by the WeChat powers that be — it has a huge impact on pubic awareness of whatever it was that the authorities did not want the Chinese people to know about (e.g., Tibet, Taiwan, Uyghurstan, Falun Gong, feminism, rights lawyers, dissidents, organ trafficking, Winnie the Pooh, Xi Jinping's use of language, and so forth and so on).

Because the censors refer to all such topics as "non-compliant content", users are often not certain of exactly what they have said that is objectionable.  Since they can have their account cancelled or receive negative social credit scores or worse (e.g., taken out by the police to "drink tea") if they post objectionable content that is too serious or they do it too much or too often, people are careful to self-censor.

The feeling one experiences when hit with an unspecified "non-compliant content" accusation is similar to that of individuals whose application for a visa is turned down or travellers to China who are turned away at the border when they ask "why?" and are told simply — with no further explanation — "You should know why".


"Bad words on WeChat: go directly to jail" (12/17/17)

"The letter * has bee* ba**ed in Chi*a" (2/26/18)

"Censoring 'Occupy' in China" (10/24/11)

"Using riddles to circumvent censorship in China" (3/6/18)

"Peppa Pig has been purged" (5/2/18)

"Censored letter" (12/19/14) — about a nine-year-old boy who suggested that Xi Jinping lose weight

"Excessive quadrisyllabicism" (2/17/18)

"Censored belly, Tibetan tattoo" (8/28/17)

"Chinese translation app with built-in censorship" (11/29/18)

"Lepus oryzinus" (2/10/18)

"Banned in Beijing" (6/4/14)

"Where's Xi?" (9/11/12)

"Digraphia and intentional miswriting" (3/12/15)

"It's not just puns that are being banned in China" (12/7/14)

"Annals of literary vs. vernacular, part 2" (9/4/16)

[H.t. Francis Miller]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 11, 2019 @ 10:19 pm

    The massive scope of censorship in China is beyond comprehension to people who do not have to live under the CCP regime. Here are just a few articles reporting on the latest developments, with an ever increasing crackdown on freedom of expression and access to information.

    "Baidu, Sohu Get Caught in Latest Chinese Internet Clampdown", Bloomberg News (1/3/19)

    "Chinese censors go old school to clamp down on Twitter: A knock on the door", Gerry Shih, Washington Post (1/4/19)

    "China's censors reportedly learn real history to stop it spreading online: True information about the Tiananmen Square massacre 'is not for people outside to know,' a Chinese censor tells The New York Times", Sean Keane, NYT (1/4/19)

  2. Matt said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 9:51 pm

    I tried to send that link to my Chinese friend on WeChat and got that same message as well (both of us are in the United States). I had seen internet censorship on China, but I hadn’t realized it extended to users of Chinese apps outside the mainland. Maybe this isn’t new but it was surprising.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 10:13 pm

    And alarming.

  4. John Rohsenow said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 3:25 am

    Two questions:
    (1) why is this access denied sign in English?
    (2) dare one inquire what happens if one clicks on "apply for access"?
    Does that just make things worse?

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 10:15 am

    From Francis Miller:

    Answers to John Rohsenow's questions are below, with screenshots.

    (1) why is this access denied sign in English?

    – because the language setting on my phone is English, so the default language of my WeChat app is in English. I had a Chinese friend use their app in Chinese to try to view the link, this is what you get:

    (2) dare one inquire what happens if one clicks on "apply for access"?

    If you hit the apply for access, you get to a page that tells you that you need to apply for access (it is in Chinese, no matter whether you have selected Chinese or English – I got a Chinese page in my English app)

    And then if you hit the apply button, you get to a form that requires you to surrender your soul to the Chinese security apparatus. Needless to say, I haven't filled out the form because I am in China but also value a peaceful existence haha.

  6. John Rohsenow said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 12:44 pm


  7. Victor Mair said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:15 pm

    Short-Video Censorship Policy Updates: Walking on Eggshells

    BY Audrey Siegel
    Jan 10, 2019


    On January 9th , the China Netcasting Services Association issued “Detailed Censorship Standards for Short-Video Content Featured on the Internet (in Chinese)” through its official website.

    The document contains one hundred provisions, specified within twenty one categories, stating what kinds of content are prohibited to be shown in online short videos. These rules extend to all aspects concerning a short-video. For instance, a video’s pop-up comments (弹幕)and subtitles.

    Such forbidden aspects include: Displaying offense towards China’s political system or legal policies. To name one, challenging or misinterpreting China’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy; Showing content that threatens to damage China’s image. For example, parodying a national leader; Presenting unhealthy or negative values and world views. Advocating materialism or infidelity falls in this category. The rules are listed along with examples to serve as guidelines, making the boundaries a little less ambiguous.

    China Netcasting Services Association, a non-profit organization that operates under the supervision of SARFT and the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, reminds us on its official website that it is the only governmental organization operating within the “Internet Audio-Visual” field. It is also China’s largest organization of the such, having major TV network brands, mainstream news outlets, film production companies and video streaming platforms, such as Youku and iQiyi, as its members.

    VHM: The noose on the flow of information in China draws ever tighter.

  8. Rodger C said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 7:46 am

    So in a(n officially) Communist country you can get in trouble for "advocating materialism"? I know there are two meanings; I just find it hilarious.

  9. James Wimberley said,

    January 17, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

    I can't find "materialism" in the text at all. But then Google Translate has whims and your version may differ I suppose.

    [VHM: What do you mean by "your version"? It's not mine.]

    If it's rule 51, Google gives me:
    "51. To promote money worship and hedonism, such as (omitted):"
    How can the advertising industry, Chinese or anybody else's, serve Mammon without promoting hedonism?

  10. James Wimberley said,

    January 18, 2019 @ 7:03 am

    As I understand it, Google Search tweaks its responses drawing on your personal browsing history, so two individuals won't get the same result from the same search string. Does the same happen with Translate? I don't know. IIRC I've had slightly different responses feeding the same source text at different times. Google is a trickster god, like Loki.

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