User Generated, Censor-Chosen Keywords on China’s Weibo
“Sensitive words” are those terms which are liable to be blocked on the Chinese Internet. Often they are words or phrases invented by Internet users to skirt censorship. China Digital Times tracks words that have been blocked from the search results of Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform, and other online forums. Instead of deleting millions of posts, Weibo simply shields from view posts containing offending terms. For instance, if you search for “Dalai Lama” (达赖喇嘛), you will get nothing but the message, “According to the relevant laws and regulations, search results for ‘Dalai Lama’ cannot be displayed.” These words may be unblocked (and reblocked) at any time.
Every year, Chinese authorities ramp up security during the weeks before June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Beijing. Political activists are frequently put under house arrest, barred entry to Beijing, or warned against publicly commemorating those killed by army troops. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the protests, and so the authorities have been particularly harsh, detaining several high-profile lawyers, journalists, academics, and activists, including rights defense lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
Real world security is matched by online monitoring. In recent days, many of Google’s services, including Gmail and Google Search, have been blocked in China. On Sina Weibo, searches for “Tiananmen” (天安门), “square” (广场), and “mourn” (悼念) are blocked, returning only the notice that the results cannot be displayed due to “the relevant laws, regulations, and policies.” Netizens continually invent code words to get around this block, in turn expanding the censors’ search term blacklist. Nevermind looking up June 4th, or “Six Four” (六四) as it is commonly called -- even “May 35th” (五月三十五) is blocked. June 4th remains perhaps the most taboo subject in the media and online in China, and netizens’ efforts to skirt censorship to discuss it demonstrate their will to keep the memory alive.
China Digital Times has been compiling a list of keywords blocked from Weibo search results since April 2011. Many terms related to the events of June 4th are perennially blocked, or are unblocked after the anniversary, then reblocked the following year. CDT has compared search terms from previous years and has distilled a list of terms that remain taboo.
For example, we first identified that the keyword “student movement” (学运) was blocked on June 4, 2011. It was unblocked at some point between then and March 2012, but blocked once again last June 3, and is blocked again this year. The sombre 占占人, which uses Chinese characters to symbolize the famous image of a man standing in front of approaching tanks, was blocked on June 4, 2012, unblocked just two days later, and is now once again unsearchable.
Your friend Tamara won’t appear on searches for the foreseeable future --“TAM,” short for Tiananmen, is blacklisted. And “candles” (蜡烛) are banished, too. The candle emoticon itself has again been removed from Weibo.
Blocked Weibo Keyword Searches: As of May 30, the following keyword searches are blocked from Weibo search results. The terms have been arranged according to the year in which CDT first noticed they were blocked.
2013● 反官倒: against bureaucratic profiteering - The protesters had many demands, not just for freedom and democracy, but also against corruption, nepotism, and the growing wealth gap. First tested June 3, 2013.● 蜡烛: candle - First tested June 3, 2013.● 烛光: candlelight - First tested June 4, 2013.● TAM: short for Tiananmen. First tested June 3, 2013.● Tiananmen - First tested June 3, 2013.● 八的平方: square of eight - i.e. 64. First tested June 4, 2013. 2012● 占占人: man (人) in front of two tanks (占) - First tested June 4, 2012.● 北京屠城: massacre in Beijing - First tested June 4, 2012.● 悼念: mourn - First tested June 4, 2012.● 维园: Victoria Park - A candlelight vigil for victims of the crackdown is held every year in Victoria Park, Hong Kong. First tested June 4, 2012. 2011● 8964 - As in June 4, 1989. First tested June 4, 2011.● 六四: Six Four - Common reference to the crackdown on students protests on the night of June 3 and the early morning of June 4, 1989. First tested June 4, 2011.● 丁子霖: Ding Zilin - Mother of a teenager killed on June 4th and founder of the organization Tiananmen Mothers. First tested June 4, 2011.● 胡耀邦: Hu Yaobang - General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 1982-1987, when he was forced to resign. Hu’s liberal voice cost him his position, but he remained in the Politburo until he died on April 8, 1989. Public mourning for him expanded to widespread protests, which ended in bloodshed on June 3-4.● 赵紫阳: Zhao Ziyang - Zhao succeeded Hu as general secretary, but then showed support for the student protesters. After the crackdown, Zhao was purged from the Party and spent virtually the rest of his life under house arrest.● 5月35日: May 35th - First tested June 4, 2011.● 平反: redress - First tested June 4, 2011.● 六四: Six Four - First tested June 4, 2011.● 学生领袖: student leader - First tested June 4, 2011.● 学运: student movement - First tested June 4, 2011.● 学潮: student strike - First tested June 4, 2011.● 坦克人: Tank Man - First tested June 4, 2011.● 天安门: tiananmen - First tested June 4, 2011.● 王丹: Wang Dan - One of the student leaders during the protests.