Hi, my name is Jason Q. Ng. This blog started as my way to document the various words that I discovered to be blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s most important social media site. I post explanations about why certain words are suppressed to get a sense of where the boundaries of Chinese censorship and self-censorship lie. I’ve mostly finished this project, with a book detailing my findings out in August 2013. Thus this blog is now mostly about other Chinese Internet happenings that I find interesting, though I still do occasionally post “why is this word blocked” explanations. If you’d like to reach me, you can use the contact form or, better yet, send me a tweet @jasonqng. Thanks.
- What is Weibo?
Weibo (微博) actually is a general term for microblogging (literally, tiny blog), representing a whole host of what started as Twitter-like clones in China (Twitter itself is blocked in China). However, Weibo has become synonymous with the largest microblogging site, Sina Weibo (新浪微博 / Xīnlàng Wēibó). It wasn’t the first, but it is by far the largest and most important microblogging site in China. As of October 2011, it had over 250 million registered users.
- What do you mean by “blocked”?
If you search for a word that the the internal censors at Weibo deem too sensitive, you’ll receive a message along the lines of “Based on Chinese laws and regulations, search results were not shown” (根据相关法律法规和政策，“[SEARCH TERM]” 搜索结果未予显示). Also, many of these terms when used in a post may cause it to be unviewable by other users; your tweet is essentially vanished even though you can see it on your end. Weibo also patrols its site, deleting without warning any offending posts. For the most part, Weibo chooses to voluntarily block sensitive words, though, from time to time, the Chinese government does mandate specific words get banned.
- What’s the deal? Is Weibo important? Isn’t it just another social networking website?
Perhaps, but some argue that amongst the millions of cute animal photos and gossip about celebrities, there is a truly important popular movement developing on the site. Like Chinese BBSs (online forums), users have learned to write openly about their feelings (though sometimes couched in ironic undertones), and the social networking aspect allows popular ideas to sweep across the nation in moments. This is either inspiring or quite unnerving, depending on where you might sit, and already a number of real-life campaigns have been sparked by Weibo. Others are much more skeptical about Weibo serving as the catalyst of a social-networking inspired revolution (a la Twitter/Facebook during the Arab Spring), but regardless, there’s something worth paying attention here.
- Why are you doing this? What’s the point?
This is just a fun little challenge for me. I thought folks might be curious to know what is considered sensitive in China.
- So how are you going about searching for banned words? Are you the only one doing this?
With regards to the second question: no. China Digital Times already has a sizable list of banned words and they’re constantly uncovering new ones. However, rather than scour news reports and try and guess what words might be banned next like they’ve been successfully doing for some time, I took a slightly different approach. I systematically used 700,000 Chinese Wikipedia titles (which includes both traditional and simplified titles as well as nicknames and colloquial terms) as my search terms and tested them on Weibo with a computer script. It was a several month process, but I’ve since discovered over 500 unique blocked words. For now I’m in the analysis stage, but in the future, I may have to call on others with free computers to help me perform a re-test of the entire list, so if you’re handy with a computer and able to type a few things from the command line, send me a message via Twitter (@jasonqng) or the submission form. I’ll hang on to your name in case I need it.
- Do you have an agenda?
Not at all. I think the world of China. If anything, I hope this site proves the resourcefulness and resiliency of Chinese netizens as well as the sense of responsibility that Chinese leaders (in the government and in private organizations) have for shepherding the country forward. You could even claim that the CCP cares too much for its citizens. I’ll be tagging and examining the data as I go along to see if there are any patterns, and, hopefully, if this project yields some interesting results, I’ll write up my findings.
- I’d love to help, but I don’t know the first thing about computers!
That’s ok. Just stay informed and be knowledgeable. Don’t spread rumors. Be kind to your friends. Try to eat a piece of fruit each day. When you can, be grateful. And most importantly: DON’T PANIC.
- My name is Jason Q. Ng. I’m currently a Google Policy Fellow at The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto. I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, and previously worked as a book editor at Metropolitan Books and The New Press in New York after studying English at Brown University. Other China-related Tumblr sites I’ve made are Firefly Chinese and Finding Doraemon. If you’d like to contact me, send me a message via the submission form or Twitter. Or email me by adding gmail dot com to my Twitter handle.
- Want more info in English about China today? How about trying one of the following?
Paper Republic, Danwei, Sinica podcast, ChinaGeeks, Inside-Out China, James Fallows, Bruce Humes, Global Voices, Rebecca McKinnon, Emily Parker, Victor Mair at Language Log, Jottings from the Granite Studio, Evan Osnos’ Letter from China, The China Beat, China Digital Times (Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon), WSJ China Real Time, Imagethief, Adam Minter, Guobin Yang, chinaSMACK (glossary of Internet slang), Chinahush, China Media Project (media dictionary), China Study Group, Tea Leaf Nation, Seeing Red in China, The Diplomat: China Power, GreatFire.org, Shanghaiist