老胡同 (old hutong / lǎo hútòng) is an urban feature...

老胡同 (old hutonglǎo hútòng) is an urban feature found in the historic districts of several Chinese cities, most notably in Beijing. Hutongs are literally the narrow streets or alleys in these old neighborhoods, some of which trace their roots back to nearly a thousand years ago, but hutongs now generally refer to these old neighborhoods themselves and the distinctive style of architecture and traditional culture held within.

Why it is blocked: Hutongs stand as a marked contrast to the new commercial and dense residential buildings found in cities across China. Not surprisingly, hutongs have been the source of numerous controversies, especially in recent years as urban development in China continues. The destruction of hutongs, which admittedly has been ongoing for centuries in China, received particular attention in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for which city officials razed numerous old neighborhoods in order to build infrastructure and modern buildings. It was reported that citizens who were ordered to vacate their homes were undercompensated, and the loss of history was mourned by local residents, preservationists, netizens, and tourists alike. It is this combination of citizens protesting the loss of their homes—and as with any story about land grabs in China, a whiff of corruption between city officials and the developers who stand to profit the most also hangs in the air—and foreign media attention that causes 老胡同 to be a sensitive term.

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credit: Sean Gallagher

Updated Jan 30: The peerless Brendan O’Kane smartly points out that 老胡同 could simply be a mocking nickname for Hu Jintao, in which case 老胡同 would translate to Old Comrade Hu. I wasn’t aware if this nickname was popularly used, but even if not, this would not be the first time an incredibly obscure reference to an official was blocked because it was insulting. However, a little sleuthing reveals that it has been used, although apparently not always in a mocking fashion. Some of the references appear genuine (though how much irony is being lost on me, I don’t know since one would have to be part of the community to really get if it’s an in-joke or not.)

Another theory (though as @bokane notes, it’s not quite grammatical): It could also be an abbreviation for 胡锦涛老同志, that is Hu Jintao’s old comrades (同 might also be short for 同学, classmate). In that case, 老胡同 would be a criticism of the Communist Party patronage system, wherein top officials promote and appoint their longtime friends, business partners, and classmates. Hu Jintao wasn’t quite as notorious as some top leaders for bringing his old-boy’s network with him to the top (or perhaps he wasn’t as successful at it as Jiang Zemin, whose Shanghai Clique ruled much of Chinese government and business throughout his time in power), but the so-called Youth League Faction was seen as Hu’s base of support. Though Hu Jintao and numerous other top officials are now technically unblocked from searching on Weibo, many combinations of the surnames of Hu, Wen (Jiabao), and Xi (Jinping) with other words are blocked still, and 老胡同 would fit that pattern.



Notes

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