罢工 (labor strike / bàgōng) is a refusal to work by employees. It is a form of protest aimed at forcing an employer to resolve grievances or to accede to employee demands.
Why it is blocked: Though striking itself is not technically illegal under Chinese law, the right to strike was removed from the Chinese constitution in 1982 (not that strikes were greatly tolerated before 1982). Therefore, unless a striker breaks other laws in conjunction with the work stoppage (which would probably be nearly unavoidable), he is technically free to do so without facing punishment. Of course, since the laws do not protect strikes, work stoppages are obviously not encouraged, though there have been times where central authorities have sided with workers in efforts to pressure local officials and employers to resolve unrest.
According to statistical yearbooks, in 2009, there were 684,379 labor disputes, 320,000 of which were officially dealt with in the court system. Workers are also able to take their grievances to their local trade union—but it operates as a mediator and not necessarily on the worker’s behalf. Though there are no official figures for the number of strikes, it’s been estimated that there are roughly 30,000-40,000 each year. Strikes do take place and in recent years some have been well-publicized (for instance a series of strikes in late-2011) and even successful (for example, the strikes in factories which produced Japanese auto parts and at the electronics manufacturer Foxconn in summer 2010) and there have been experiments in southern China with legalizing strikes. However, work stoppages, particularly ones that attempt to involve more than one workplace are strongly and often violently suppressed with beatings by hired thugs, mass arrests, and prosecution of organizers. Domestic media are usually barred from reporting about strikes. (For a great at-a-glance look of strikes that have been reported in recent years, see the the excellent China Strikes crowdsourced map.)
維多利亞 (Victoria / Wéiduōlìyà) is Latin for “conquer” and in Roman mythology she was the goddess of victory, equivalent to the Greek goddess Nike.
Why it is blocked: Could it be the Latin meaning? Or maybe those too sexy Victoria’s Secret models? The shadow of Queen Victoria and colonial emasculation? Or… Posh Spice? No, but rather because of Victoria Park in Hong Kong (searching for 維園, the first character in Victoria along with the word for park, is also blocked).
Every June 4, Victoria Park is the site of an annual candlelight vigil to observe the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Hundreds of thousands attend each year to hear speeches against one-party democracy, to sing protest songs, and to honor the victims and their families. The park is also used for other demonstrations, including the meeting point for the annual July 1 marches. Of note is the fact that only the traditional characters for Victoria are blocked. Searching for 维多利亚 is unblocked (you’ll see links relating to Victoria, Australia and Victoria’s Secret in the sidebar). As noted, 維園, an abbreviation for Victoria Park, is also blocked in traditional characters, but is unblocked when converted to simplified characters, a clear indication that the block is targeted at Hong Kongers and Victoria Park in Hong Kong.
The top post on Weibo today is about friendship between China and Japan:
translation: Juanzi : A few days ago a friend went on a business trip to Japan but had trouble leaving the country . This morning he sent me a text  saying that last night he and a co-worker had been eating at a Japanese bar when it was uncovered that they were Chinese, after which they got a dish that had some words written on it. When I heard this, I was worried. But who would have thought it would be these words . The bar owner said, “Thank you for being so willing to come to Japan, I hope there will be peace and friendship.” … I certainly was surprised. Patriotism: must we use xenophobia and hatred to express it?
[Larger image on Facebook… Any suggested edits to translation are welcome… I’ll be back to the regular weekly posts next Monday or Tuesday.]
(1) 涓子, name of blogger
(2) probably because of the cancellation of flights to and from China due to the protests and tension against Japan recently
(3) technically a WeChat message
(4) The words on the dish say: “Thank you China.”
UPDATE: All right! Now this is relevant for the blog! Not more than 10 mins after I posted this translation, the original Weibo post calling for friendship between China and Japan has been deleted from the site. It’s possible the author deleted it herself (maybe amongst the 30,000+ responses some were hateful?) or perhaps the censors stepped in? If so, it’s very sad that advocating for peace with your “enemy” can’t find a place on Weibo. UPDATE 2: In a follow-up message, the author says she deleted it herself (see comments) due to threats and pressure of some sort. [我删了。我自己也吓一跳 = I deleted it. I was a little scared.]
抵制日货 (Boycott Japanese goods / dǐzhì Rìhuò) and 抵制家乐福 (Boycott Carrefour / dǐzhì Jiālèfú) were two separate grassroots movements in recent years aimed at demonstrating Chinese anger at Japan and the French retailer Carrefour, respectively. Though each took place in different years (For Japan: 2005, 2010, and 2012, among others; Carrefour: 2008) and for different reasons (Japan: continuing resentment over atrocities and occupation of parts of China during Sino-Japanese War, the cleansing of textbooks in 2005, former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, disputes over islands in the South China Sea, among others; Carrefour: in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Olympic torch relay was interrupted several times across the world by human rights protesters, most egregiously in France when the Chinese Paralympic fencer Jin Jing was tackled in her wheelchair while carrying the torch, and Carrefour, whose supermarkets are common in Chinese cities and reportedly also donated to Free Tibet causes, served as a convenient scapegoat), both were inspired by patriotic verging on ultra-nationalist sentiment that played up China’s role as a country that had been victimized in the past but would no longer be bulled.
Why it is blocked: For each event, anger was expressed virtually as well as with demonstrations and a call to boycott goods. In each case, the central government appeared to support initial protests or made no strong efforts to tamp it down, but as demonstrations grew violent and out of control in each instance, the authorities reacted by reining in the outrage (most recently: ”Weibo calls for Japanese boycott to remain rational”; “China moves to quell anti-Japanese demonstrations”). The existence of a block of “Boycott Japanese goods” on Weibo seems to be a legacy of these previous demonstrations and is not new.
裤袜 (pantyhose, stockings, or tights / kùwà), literally “pants sock” in Chinese, is legwear made of nylon or spandex typically worn by women for fashion or comfort. It was popularized by skirt-wearing women in the U.S. and U.K. who were required by social conventions to not show their bare legs in public or in the office. More about female fashion in the workplace is discussed in this NPR radio piece, which discusses, among other things, the female trouser ban in the U.S. Senate.
Why it is blocked: Probably because although the image search results for 裤袜 in Chinese aren’t as lewd as those for pantyhose in English (beware, NSFW if you have safe search turned off), they still are too sexy for somebody’s taste (no nudity, but still probably NSFW).
维勒 (Friedrich Wöhler or Villar-Perosa machine gun / wéilēi) are two characters often found in phonetic transliterations of Western words and names. For instance, it makes up the last name of the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler (弗里德里希·维勒) as well as part of Colombian golfer Camilo Villegas’ last name (维勒加斯).
Why it is blocked: However, it’s unlikely that the characters are blocked because of either person’s contributions to science or sport (though Villegas was involved in a rather racy—by Chinese standards at least—photo shoot for ESPN Magazine’s ”Body Issue”). More plausibly, it may be because 维勒 represents 维勒·帕洛沙—the Villar-Perosa submachine gun. However, though this would be in keeping with China’s censorship of weapons on Weibo, the Villar-Perosa is almost always referred to by its full name even in Chinese, making it strange to block just 维勒 if the intention was to control references to the weapon (which are few: just two at last count, with one blocked—see the message at the bottom). The gun was never widely used in China or outside of WWI—though innovative, apparently it was a terribly ineffective gun. So the reason for why 维勒 is blocked is obscure.
For fun: The original service manual for how to maintain a Villar-Perosa submachine gun as well as an English promotional brochure for the weapon.
黄雀行动 (Operation Yellowbird / huángquè xíngdòng) was a Hong Kong-based effort initiated after the June 4 crackdown to assist Chinese political dissidents in leaving the mainland. From 1989 to 1997, a group of activists, diplomats, businessmen, and celebrities worked with crime bosses and smugglers to guide over 400 dissidents out of China. The program has been called a Chinese “underground railroad.”
Why it is blocked: Not only does the operation deal with politically sensitive people—Wu’er Kaixi, Chai Ling, and other June 4 student leaders left the country with Yellowbird’s assistance—but it also touches on sovereignty issues as well as the obvious rifts in the Hong Kong-China relationship. Foreign nations and diplomats actively bent laws to allow dissidents to sneak into Hong Kong and then find safe passage out to countries like the U.S. or France. Though China fiercely objected to such interference, The Standard also conjectured that China might have had cause for letting dissidents slip through its fingers: “Apart from the connivance of sympathetic Chinese officials, Yellow Bird’s high rate of success appears to owe something to inertia in the government, which can find it more convenient to let dissidents leave the country than have them remain to cause trouble.” Whether it was a convenient solution or not, Operation Yellowbird highlighted just how differently Hong Kong and China viewed 6-4 and democracy, issues China will have to contend with in the coming years as it continues to try and integrate HK.
Hi, I’ve just returned from overseas and once I (hopefully) get over my jet lag this weekend, I’ll start making weekly posts again, probably starting Monday. I look forward to continuing the project. Thanks.
I’ll be in Hong Kong and Beijing during the next three months so posts will be fewer and farther between. If you happen to be in one of those cities and would like to treat me to a healthy lunch, get in touch! I’ll try to put up an occasional post, but for now, please go to China Digital Times (among others) for the latest in Weibo blocking news.
I’ll leave for the summer with this: looking through my latest set of logs, I noticed in particular two words which have been unblocked: 女同 (lesbian / nǚtóng) and Cai Fuchao (蔡赴朝), the current director of SARFT, the administrative body in charge of regulating China’s radio, film, and television content. As evidenced by the number of search results, 女同 isn’t a particularly common term, perhaps owing to the fact that it’s been blocked for so long as well as the fact that 拉拉 (lālā) is the preferred self-adopted word for a homosexual female in China. As for Cai, there’s been no major news about him recently, so who knows why they decided to unblock him again (he was momentarily unblocked back in February along with many other names before being re-blocked in March). [Status of 女同 and 蔡赴朝, data courtesy of GreatFire]
翻墙 (over the Great Firewall / fānqiáng) literally means crossing the wall, but is commonly translated as climbing over the Great Firewell—that is evading China’s network of structural, social, and legal controls by which it regulates Internet content.
Why it is blocked: China doesn’t deny that the Internet is tightly controlled in the country—with specific websites like Facebook and Twitter blocked, “immoral” content like pornography restricted, search results filtered, and individual blog posts containing politically sensitive material deleted. In fact, China openly admits and defends its Internet regulations, which are often implemented by private companies as a form of self-censorship at the government’s behest. However, criticizing this system is not acceptable.* A number of tools allow netizens to circumvent the blocks, giving them unfettered access to the Internet. (If you want to climb inside the Great Firewall and experience life as a Chinese Internet user, you can install China Channel, a Firefox add-on.) The U.S. government has been involved with funding some of these tools, including the controversial Falun Gong-designed Ultrasurf.
According to a 2010 survey, most climbers are university students who simply want to use Google search. Other findings show that only a small share of Chinese Internet users bother to use anti-censorship tools and are mostly satisfied with the domestic offerings available to them. However, even these users are often passively involved in anti-censorship measures when they engage in practices like using coded language on social media sites to evade censors.
*Fun fact: Though references to the Great Firewall are blocked on Weibo, Fang Binxing, the vilified architect and grand designer of it, is not. He was forced to close his Weibo account after irate Internet users showered him with abuse. The vitriol for him even extended into real life, with a student throwing a shoe at him and becoming a folk hero for it.
亡国 (conquered nation / wángguó) can be translated as “vanished country” or “a state heading for destruction/downfall.” It’s generally used to describe when an outside power has defeated a nation in war, either wiping it out or causing it to lose its independence. Examples include the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the U.S., the conquering of the First Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, and the subjugation of the Korean Empire by Imperial Japan in 1910. It is also the Chinese title of the somewhat controversial 2005 Japanese action thriller Aegis (Bôkoku no îjisu).
Why it is blocked: Perhaps the term is used by Tibetans or citizens in Xinjiang to describe Chinese control of their provinces? Or maybe netizens use it to insult the future state of China or to describe instances of China appearing to bow to outside/American influences? The term popped up in several news reports related to China’s recent dispute with the Philippines in the South China Seas. However, it is also widely used in an apolitical manner, often to describe something that is extinct or a situation wherein someone is suppressing another.
天葬 (sky burial / tiānzàng) is a Tibetan funeral practice where the corpse is placed on a mountainside and ritually cut with cleavers. The dead body is then left exposed, oftentimes eaten by awaiting vultures. It is a practice that is both practical (the ground in Tibet is usually too hard to dig and fuel for cremation is scarce) and spiritual.
Why it is blocked: Disposal of the dead has at times been a contentious issue in China. Though traditionally, Chinese have preferred to bury their dead in the ground, Mao initiated a campaign in the 1950s to encourage citizens to cremate corpses in order to free up more productive farmland (a notion that is still advocated today) as well as to stamp out “superstitious” folk religions. In some areas, burials are still technically illegal, though such laws are widely ignored. Cremation rates have risen since the 1950s (now at 48%), and today most urban Chinese cremate while the majority of those in the countryside still bury.
Sky burials, also known as celestial burials or open-air burials, have the added sensitive element of being a Tibetan practice. To those who are unfamiliar with the ritual, it may also appear to be a particularly grotesque one (NSFW). In 2006, in order to protect and respect the act, the central government reportedly implemented regulations, with a ban on photography and media coverage of any such burials. However, numerous photos persist online (NSFW). It’s likely blocked due to these graphic and potentially upsetting images to non-Tibetans. [Status]
卫星电视 (satellite television / wèixīng diànshì) is TV programming broadcasted by a communications satellite orbiting the earth and received by households via an outdoor antenna, generally known as a satellite dish.
Why it is blocked: This is another fairly obscure word to be blocked (searching for 卫星电 returns 87 results, 5 of which are for 卫星电视), but at least there’s a reason. Installation of satellite TV dishes is regulated in China, with private ownership of them illegal in a number of cities (compelling some citizens to creatively conceal and hide theirs), though workplaces which need to monitor foreign news and establishments that cater to foreigners are allowed them. Satellite dishes were banned in China by Li Peng in 1993, supposedly in response to Rupert Murdoch’s declaration that satellite television would be “an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.” (His company, STAR TV, would spend more than a decade trying to make up for that speech.) However, those restrictions are openly flouted by residents and marketers. Besides China’s desire to control overseas content entering the country, it’s reported that satellite programming is hampering the government’s efforts to transition cities to digital television (satellite TV service is earmarked for hard to reach rural villages).
Note: Satellite dishes themselves are more colloquially referred to as woks/pots (锅 / guō) or plates/dishes (碟 / dié). The more standard word for satellite dish is 卫星天线 (天线 / tiānxiàn literally means “sky wire/line,” aka antenna). 卫星天线 and 卫星碟 are not blocked on Weibo, but 卫星锅 is. [Status]
上海帮 (Shanghai Gang or Shanghai Clique / Shànghǎi bāng) is a nickname given to a group of high-level CCP politicians who were most prominent during the 1990s and early-2000s. These politicians usually had strong ties to then-president Jiang Zemin, who came to power as the mayor and party chief in Shanghai. Jiang packed the Politburo with his former subordinates, but since his leaving office in 2003, the Shanghai Gang’s influence has arguably waned.
Why it is blocked: 上海帮, like “Shanghai Gang” in English, has a decidedly pejorative connotation, implying underhanded dealings and cronyism. Peter McGregor’s The Party has a fantastic chapter on how the central government was able to rein in the group’s power by arresting and imprisoning one of Jiang’s most trusted allies, Chen Liangyu, on corruption charges. As the Communist Party essentially runs China, it can be helpful to think of groups like the Shanghai Gang and the Youth League faction (团派 / tuánpài—also blocked on Weibo) as China’s de facto form of political parties. These alliances are often based on personal connections as well as ideology. For a government which likes to present itself as unified on all fronts, writing about such political in-fighting is no doubt frowned upon. [Status]
方励之 (Fang Lizhi) was a professor of astrophysics and board member and co-chair of Human Rights in China. His writing inspired the pro-democracy student movement of 1986-87 and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In June 1990, he was granted political asylum into the U.S. after much negotiating involving high-level diplomatic talks, half-hearted confessions, and renewed loan agreements. He died on Saturday, April 7, 2012.
Why it is blocked: The New York Times’ obituary quotes Wang Dan, one of the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen, as saying, “Fang Lizhi has inspired the ‘89 generation and has awakened the people’s yearning for human rights and democracy.” [Status - 11/29/11, 2/5/12, 3/12/12, 4/7/12: blocked]