富女 (rich woman / fùnǚ) is a term for a woman with money. [Note: the term was blocked for most of 2012, but has been unblocked since Oct 2012.] It may refer to one who is independently wealthy due to her job, but more typically it is used derogatorily online to criticize the obscene wealth of the wives, mistresses, and daughters of rich businessmen and government officials.
Why it is blocked: The term was blocked because of a June 2011 incident involving a 富女. Twenty-year-old Guo Meimei (郭美美), who listed her job title as commercial general manager of the “China Red Cross Chamber of Commerce,” had been posting for months about her glamorous lifestyle on Weibo, which included photos of her horseback riding, flying in first class, and flaunting her prized possessions: Hermès handbags, an orange Lamborghini, and a white Maserati luxury car. When Internet users discovered her account, investigations and outrage spread throughout Weibo. Eventually, netizens identified Wang Jun, a board member at a company who organized charity drives for the official Red Cross Society of China, as perhaps being Guo’s boyfriend, and he subsequently resigned from his job. (Though some news reports claimed that the luxury cars were actually Wang’s, Guo claimed in a TV interview that Wang had gifted them to her. Further confusion was sown when Guo and her mother claimed that Wang Jun was merely a close family friend and Guo’s “godfather.”)
Chinese Red Cross officials denied any connection with Guo, though they admitted her supposed organization did exist. Netizens demanded a full accounting of where their donations had gone, and the Chinese Red Cross launched an investigation, which turned up improprieties. However, despite the thorough investigation, the Chinese Red Cross’s reputation was already seriously damaged, and donations fell by nearly 60 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year.
The Chinese Red Cross scandal was just one of a series that shook Chinese confidence in charities—which are supposed to be tightly regulated by the government. One of the most notorious occurred in the pre–social media age: in 2001, reporters uncovered vast corruption in the China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF) program Project Hope, which aimed to help impoverished children get an education. In August 2011, another rich female was ensnared in a charity scandal: twenty-four-year-old Lu Xingyu (卢 星宇), the daughter of billionaire Lu Junqin (卢俊卿), was accused of extracting exorbitant management fees of over $20 million from her charity China-Africa Project Hope, another CYDF-affiliated program. Her rambling defense of the charity was lambasted by netizens. And on an individual level, actress Zhang Ziyi was accused of charity fraud and of not fulfilling donations as promised in 2010. In an interview she tearfully admitted to an oversight on her part and donated the balance of what she had pledged.
When Sichuan Province—decimated by a major earthquake in 2008—experienced more deadly tremors in April 2013, Guo Meimei’s name re-entered news stories, with her past corruption serving as a cautionary tale for anyone who sought to donate money to state charities. Chinese Red Cross was mostly shunned while private charities, including online ones run by Internet companies like Sina, flourished. More controversy erupted online when a video of Hong Kong politician Raymond Wong Yuk-man berating officials who sought to donate government money to relief efforts went viral. Wong and his strident criticism of corrupt charities and the mainland government became a trending topic on Weibo, even beating out Iron Man’s much publicized movie opening. It’s very possible that these events—all stemming from a lack of trust in state charities—would not likely have come to pass without Guo Meimei’s “efforts” as a 富女.
Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China’s Version of Twitter (And Why)
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here on this blog yet, but I’m excited to announce that a book I wrote is coming out this summer. (Above is an advance reader’s copy that my publisher The New Press shared.) It’s basically a version of this blog, also aimed at giving general readers the context for why certain topics in China are sensitive. There are over 150 entries, about a 100 of which are brand new, and the others which come from this blog are updated. You can pre-order online now at your favorite online store or you can pick it up at your local bookstore in August. As we get closer to the publication date, I’ll start posting entries from the book more regularly. Thanks to everyone for their support of this project over the past year: couldn’t have done it without you Tumblr and everyone else who follows this blog!
Weibo censors delete post of masked Mao portrait criticizing Beijing air pollution
Apparently the censors at Weibo are still quite touchy about the recent “airpocalypse” in Beijing, when the U.S. embassy’s air quality monitor seemed to go off the deep end and reported record high levels of pollution in the city back in January. The above image was found in the latest roundup at FreeWeibo, which relies in part on data from Weiboscope, a University of Hong Kong tool that checks popular Weibo feeds to see what posts have gone missing (that is, deleted/censored). Weibo posts with these images have gone missing on a number of feeds (1, 2, 3). Apparently the combination of Mao + criticism of Beijing’s air quality are a no go.
Update 3/11: An anonymous tipster writes in to remind that The Economist ran a cover during the 2003 SARS crisis with Mao wearing a surgical mask. He notes that “the China chief was called in to the responsible party official, and told that ‘the highest levels’ of government were very displeased. Turns out it wasn’t because of the surgical mask, but because The Economist was using Mao to represent China.”
They live in Guangdong (well, many of them do at least):
Some background: Now that I finally got around to playing with Weibo’s API, I’ve been collecting (you might call it hoarding…) a lot of fun data. I’m currently engrossed in this dataset I’ve developed of anti-Japanese comments and I’ve been doing a lot of spatial analysis—all of which is only possible because Weibo neatly provides a wealth of detailed location data included with every post/comment. Whereas Twitter offers whatever location a user supplies (“In your head”; “Your mom’s house”) along with a time zone (geo-coordinates and detailed location info are only available on a tiny percentage of tweets), Weibo’s API neatly gives you every user’s province, city code, and chosen location. The options are selected, not filled-in, so the data is super clean and crisp (well, outside of people who lie about their location).
Thus, seeing as it might be helpful for my other projects to know where Weibo users are blogging from (or at least say they are), I conducted a data expedition, grabbing the latest 200 posts from Weibo every five minutes for one full week. After discarding repeat messages (Weibo’s API doesn’t guarantee the posts are the absolute most recent, though for the most part, the majority of the posts matched my download date-time), I came up with a sample of 283,109 unique users, 236,611 of whom live in mainland China and which I used to generate the map above and chart below (this whole exercise was basically an excuse to show off some of Google’s super easy-to-use Fusion tables and an unnecessary distraction to my thesis writing, sigh).
Wen Jiabao (“温家宝”) unable to be posted on Weibo; error message returned
I’m not certain when this began, but as of right now, you can’t post any message on Weibo with Wen Jiabao’s name (“温家宝”). Doing so returns the following message (full size image):
Rough translation: Sorry, this content violates “Sina Weibo’s Community Administrative Rules” or other related regulatory policies, and we’re unable to execute the intended action. If you need assistance, please contact customer service.
FreeWeibo shows posts containing Wen Jiabao still being deleted today. Searches for Wen’s name have been blocked continuously for some time now (he was unblocked briefly during the Party Congress and for the ten days after), but being unable to post his name at all is another more extreme step. Attempting to post “彭博社” (Bloomberg) also returns the same error message. By comparison, I checked several hundred other sensitive politician’s names in the past week and no one else had this form of censorship. Can folks confirm that they are unable to post 温家宝 on their end as well?
Major breaking news everyone: Sina Weibo introduced this month a new series of emojis (you know, those popular smiley face images that are found in many text messaging apps), bringing up the number of unique animated gifs that you can embed into your tweets to over 1,000.
What makes these curious are they fact that they aren’t your typical, cutesy 可爱 emoticons (even a pile of poo is cute when rendered into emoji form). They come from the so-called “rage comics” which originated from the anything-goes imageboard 4chan and were further popularized by the website Reddit, both of which are English-language (and primarily American) websites.
Based on some cursory searching of Weibo posts for the rage comic emojis, they seem to have started appearing around January 17. They aren’t heavily used in posts, with most of these emoji having less than 20 search results (which doesn’t include usage in comments).
Why does this matter? No particular reason (I was joking about this being major news by the way), but it is notable that someone at Sina thought it worth implementing a whole panel worth of emoji that began strictly as an English-language meme—and an often times mean-spirited one at that. Rage comics are rather passe now in America, having peaked in popularity a year or two ago. However, as Shangaiist reported back in December about the existence of Chinese rage comics, they seem to be picking up in popularity in China due in part to the website 暴走漫画 (Baozou Manhua).
Here’s a list of the 71 emoji: the code you type to create them followed by the rough Chinese translation (plus the animated gifs from the site that you can download):
宪政民主 (constitutional democracy / xiànzhèng mínzhǔ), closely related to liberal democracy, is generally classified as a government that holds free elections, has a separation of powers between different branches of government, and maintains respect for minority and majority rights, among other principles.
Why it is blocked: Today, China is not a constitutional democracy, though it has attempted to initiate certain reforms in recent years to perhaps move it in that direction–if future party leaders so choose.* Direct elections take place at certain local levels, and the country’s Supreme Court appeared to be moving towards becoming an autonomous body during the 2000s before its power was curtailed. However, on the whole, any discussion of political reform is strictly suppressed. For instance, when Premier Wen Jiabao made references in a number of 2010 speeches to China’s need to take up more democratic measures, his own remarks were censored by state media.
Unlike 宪法法院 (constitutional court / xiànfǎ fǎyuàn), 宪政民主 has not been blocked throughout all of 2012 and does not appear to have been unblocked at any point. It’s “sensitive” nature pre-dates the Southern Weekend controversy.
*Chrystia Freeland reminds us that countries like China and Russia have cleverly exploited their spoken desire for greater freedoms in order to justify their current more illiberal practices—essentially, declaring that they are on the right path but just need more time.
The question of how many Chinese Twitter users there are made headlines a few months back when the market research company GlobalWebIndex published results from a survey which claimed that 35 million people in China used Twitter. Media outlets ran with the story of how there was a huge secret upswell in “free” netizens in China who climbed the Great Firewall to access blocked sites like Twitter, with the seeming implication being that revolución! was just around the corner. Social/human rights progress may still indeed take place in China in the near future, but most smart social media watchers agree it won’t be because of Twitter: Chinese folks just aren’t on the service in the same numbers that they are on other local social media sites like Sina Weibo, RenRen, and even upstart mobile apps like WeChat/Weixin. People (and even companies in advertisements) don’t pass around their Twitter handle in the same frequencies as they share their Weibo contact info.
Even if our eyes told us that Twitter seemed to have attracted an active but small group of activists in China—but not many others in the country—was there a possibility that we were all missing something? Was there really a secret group of Chinese Twitter users being overlooked? Fortunately, after this week, I hope we can finally dismiss GWI’s 35 million number once and for all. Inspired by an SCMP story detailing the findings of the Chinese Twitter user @ooof (h/t Steven Millward of Tech In Asia)—who cleverly used data on the website Twiyia.com to conclude that roughly 18,000 people who posted a tweet in Chinese selected Beijing as their home timezone—this weekend I performed a similar test using publicly available tweets on Twitter utilizing its API. According to the data I extracted, there are most likely tens of thousands of Twitter users in China, not millions as claimed by GWI, a result that confirms @ooof’s finding.[1a] The exact numbers @ooof and I come up with may differ, and only Twitter itself would be best able to reveal how many Chinese Twitter users there actually are, but our independent results are likely within an order of magnitude to the actual number of Twitter users in China, unlike GWI’s result which is about 2000 times greater than our calculations. The hard evidence backs up what our eyes are telling us.
If you’re interested in the technical information of how I performed this fairly rigorous (though certainly not at the level of an academic research paper) test, read on. (Apologies for the non-Weibo-related post; I hope it’s still of relevant to those who read this blog.)
The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress: Which CCP politicians are blocked right now
马凯 (Ma Kai), 邱进 (Qiu Jin), 韩正 (Han Zheng), 令计划 (Ling Jihua), 回良玉 (Hui Liangyu), 刘延东 (Liu Yandong), 孙国相 (Sun Guoxiang), 杜青林 (Du Qinglin), 李书章 (Li Shuzhang), 李鹏新 (Li Pengxin), 杨洁篪 (Yang Jiechi), 张德江 (Zhang Dejiang), 陈世炬 (Chen Shiju), 陈炳德 (Chen Bingde), 尚福林 (Shang Fulin), 周本顺 (Zhou Benshun), 俞正声 (Yu Zhengsheng), 栗战书 (Li Zhanshu), 徐才厚 (Xu Caihou), 郭伯雄 (Guo Boxiong), 章沁生 (Zhang Qinsheng), 梁光烈 (Liang Guanglie), 屠光绍 (Tu Guangshao), 傅政华 (Fu Zhenghua), 曾庆红 (Zeng Qinghong), 戴秉国 (Dai Bingguo), 向巴平措 (Xiangba Pingcuo)
Above names return 0 results or a blocked message on Sina Weibo as of Nov 8, 2012 6AM EST.
[full size image]
Ah, that’s the Sina I know and love! Back to good ol regular search blocks. Will have full list of re-blocked pols in an hr #blockedonweibo— Jason Q. Ng (@jasonqng) November 8, 2012
Note: 0 is the new blocked (results below are from Sina Weibo, Nov 4, 2012)
温家宝 (Wen Jiabao): 0 results
张蓓莉 (Zhang Beili, wife): 0 results
杨志云 (Yang Zhiyun, mother): 0 results
温家宏 (Wen Jiahong, younger brother): 0 results
温云松 (Wen Yunsong, son): 0 results
杨小萌 (Yang Xiaomeng, daughter-in-law): unblocked
温如春 (Yun Ruchun, granddaughter): unblocked
劉春航 (Liu Chunhang, granddaughter’s husband): unblocked
张建明 (Zhang Jianming, brother-in-law): unblocked
张剑鹍 (Zhang Jiankun, brother-in-law): 0 results
于剑鸣 (Yu Jianming, Wen Yunsong’s classmate and business partner): 0 results
段伟红 (Duan Weihong, investor): 0 results
郑裕彤 (Chen Yu-tong, investor): unblocked
李嘉诚 (Li Ka-shing, investor): unblocked
image source: NY Times, The Wen Family Empire
As of the beginning of this month, Sina Weibo has made a number of changes to the way they handle their censorship of search results. I’ve previously tweeted about a rising number of searches that are “partially blocked” rather than blocked wholesale with the typical “According to relevant laws, search results are not displayed” message.
空凳 (empty stool / kōngdèng) is a reference to the empty chair between Thorbjørn Jagland and Kaci Kullmann Five during the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize…
Why it is blocked: …an award that the recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was unable to receive because he was in prison. One of the iconic images of the evening was head of the Nobel Committee Thorbjørn Jagland placing the Nobel medal onto the vacant chair. Hong Kong media and netizens used the phrase to recognize Liu’s situation and accomplishment. China’s most recent Nobel winner, novelist and short story writer Mo Yan for literature, made headlines when he called for the release of Liu.
Coincidentally, the Hong Kong musician, Danny Summer (夏韶聲), the “father of Hong Kong rock-and-roll” (not to be confused with Cui Jian, “the father of Chinese rock”) and writer of the classic Tiananmen Square tribute song “Mama, I Didn’t Do Anything Wrong,” had penned an unrelated ballad to his dead father also entitled 空凳 in 1985.
(空凳 was blocked at the end of 2011 and is now currently unblocked.)
组织者 (organizer / zǔzhīzhě) is a person who organizes.
Why it is blocked: Like the English definition, 组织者 has a mostly neutral connotation. In Chinese, it can refer to the organizers of a meeting or a conference as well as the organizers of a union, community, or political party. It can even refer to an athlete like Steve Nash or Peyton Manning who organizes teammates around him during a play. Of course, it’s not for sports reasons that “organizer” is blocked: it’s the organizing of labor strikes, independence movements, and democratic reform that worries authorities.