Showing posts tagged 64

64屠城 (June 4 massacre / 64 túchéng) refers to the crackdown on the student-led protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. After months of demonstrations in the heart of Beijing and much internal infighting about how to handle the protesters, authorities decided to send in tanks and troops to quell the “disorder.” Even though according to recent revelations, there wasn’t actually much blood spilled on the square itself, hundreds or thousands were still killed (the exact figure is debated) that night across the city. These victims are commemorated every year on June 4 in Chinese diasporic communities around the world—most notably in Hong Kong which holds an annual memorial in Victoria Park. However, such remembrances are strongly discouraged on the mainland and every year there is a marked increase in censorship around the date.

屠城 is an interesting phrase in that it generally refers to massacres that take place in cities—typically the killing of civilians in a captured city by military forces. The Nanjing Massacre of 1937 (also known as the Rape of Nanking) is perhaps the most notable recent 屠城 in Chinese history; others include the Yangzhou Massacre and the three massacres in Jiading in 1645.

In a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



只身挡坦克 (zhǐ shēn dǎng tǎnkè) means one person blocking tanks. It should be pretty obvious why LINE would consider adding this to their list of censored keywords:

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In a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



月月鸟 (literally, “every month bird” / yuèyuèniǎo) is code for Li Peng (李鹏), the former Premier of China and second highest-ranking politician in the CCP during the 1990s. He promoted projects like the controversial Three Gorges Dam and was an ardent opponent of the economic liberalization programs supported by Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang, eventually helping to orchestrate Zhao’s downfall in 1989…

Why it is blocked: …a downfall brought about because of a significant event in 1989: the Tian’anmen Square protests. Li was a strong advocate for using force to end the protests, again opposing Zhao, who was more conciliatory toward the students. Li further bolstered his reputation among the protesters as their primary villain during a nationally televised broadcast meeting with student leaders, who demanded that the government retract the April 26 editorial, a document Li was very influential in drafting. Li openly scorned the students, interrupting them and flatly rejecting their demands. Eventually, he was able to build a case against Zhao, and on June 4, troops marched on the square, a decision which some citizens still curse him for to this day. A book of Li Peng’s supposed diary entries entitled The Critical Moment was planned for release in 2010, but it was halted just before publication. In it, Li justifies many of his most vilified acts and emphasizes that it was a group decision to enter the square. Observers speculated it was an attempt by him to recover his legacy before he died and others suggested that Beijing forced the Hong Kong publisher of the book to stop because it reflected badly on the leaders then in power, including Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao.

月月鸟 are the three components of Li Peng’s given name, 鹏. Though 鹏 itself isn’t blocked on Weibo (his full name 李鹏 is blocked), I guess the censors assume that you must be up to no good if you’re using 月月鸟 as a sort of code to write about Li Peng, and thus those three characters which stand in for his name are blocked.



自由花 (“The Flower of Freedom” / “Zìyóuhuā”) is a Cantonese song written by Hong Kong lyricist Thomas Chow to commemorate the victims of June 4, 1989. He set the lyrics to the popular Taiwanese song “Sailor” by Zheng Zhihua.

Why it is blocked: It is sung every year by those who attend the June 4 vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park (see page 50). From the chorus:

But there is a dream, it will not die, remember it!
No matter how hard the rain falls, freedom still will bloom.
There is a dream, it will not die, remember this!

It may also be sensitive because it is a homophone for liberalization (自由化 / zìyóuhuà), an economic and social policy contested within the Communist Party (read Yuezhi Zhao’s “Challenging Neoliberalism?” in Communication in China for more about the New Western Hills Meeting controversy).



<Censoring a commemoration: what June 4-related search terms are blocked on Weibo today>

As citizens in China and around the world commemorate the twenty-fourth anniversary of the June 4th incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Internet censorship in China around this sensitive date has now become expected and almost routine. Though, as Tech in Asia notes, the censorship this year likely won’t be as intense as it was during the twentieth anniversary—when hundreds of sites went down for so-called “Internet maintenance”—and as websites consider more sophisticated forms of filtering out June 4-related posts, much overt censorship will still take place on sites behind the Great Firewall, including seemingly trivial steps like removing the candle emoticon from being inserted into Sina Weibo posts.

Another way the social media site Sina Weibo censors its site—alongside manual deletions by human censors of sensitive content—is by blocking the user from searching for specific keywords, and instead returning a message that says no results can be displayed. Though the blocking of keywords is a blunt tactic that often cuts off access to many legitimate posts—in addition to sometimes being ineffective as users switch to homophones or other code words—it is still widely employed on the site. Below are seventy-one keywords (along with brief translations and notes) that are currently blocked from searching on Sina Weibo.  

direct link

I performed this test by utilizing research by Jeffrey Knockel into words that trigger surveillance and censorship on Sina UC and Tom-Skype. I grabbed his list of known sensitive words related to June 4 on those chat clients and tested them on Sina Weibo on June 3, 12:00 PM EST. The notes and translations above were provided by The Citizen Lab (with additions and edits by me).

[cross-posted at The Citizen Lab]



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.



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.



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]



陈希同 (Chen Xitong) was the former party secretary of Beijing from 1992-95 and mayor from 1983-93, during which time he famously asserted that only two hundred had died during the Tiananmen crackdown. He was dismissed on corruption charges in the mid-90s and was imprisoned for 8 years before being released on medical parole.

Why it is blocked: The parallels between Chen’s downfall and Bo’s are quite interesting. Both were rising stars within the CCP Politburo and mayors of prominent cities. Both were arguably undone by a mixture of arrogance (Bo for “trying to rally public opinion in favor of his now-defunct bid to join the Politburo Standing Committee”; Chen for “boasting that his power was beyond anyone’s reach”), corruption (although Chen’s was demonstrably much less than was initially reported in the mid-90s; in the end, he personally took something in the neighborhood of a $100,000 in bribes, most in the form of gifts—small potatoes considering what others in China have been punished for) and for personal/political reasons. Each of their deputy mayors (who even share the same, albeit common, surname) also played sensational roles in their falls: Wang Lijun sparked Bo’s purge with his visit to the American consulate in Chengdu while Wang Baosen committed suicide under suspicious circumstances, with some claiming his choice to die in Huairou was a sort of clue or signal. Chen’s son was sentenced to prison; Wang’s merely has to suffer the infamy of being known as not owning a Ferrari. [Chen’s block was not triggered by the Bo incident; it was blocked back in January. Status - 1/14/12: blocked; 2/5/12: unblocked; 3/12/12: blocked]

Also of note: The CCP pulled out all the stops to smear Chen, including branding him as “corrupt and decadent.” Newspapers intimated that he had a taste for “entertaining young female television presenters,” and it later came out that he cavorted about with a mistress who was 15 years old. A thinly-veiled roman à clef entitled The Wrath of Heaven about Chen was released then quickly banned in 1997.



遊行 (parade or demonstration/marchyóuxíng) is a gathering of people, usually organized along a street. Parades are generally celebratory processions, while demonstration is often used to describe more political public meetings.

Why it is blocked: 遊行 is just one of many terms to describe public gatherings of people, but it is one of the few still blocked (a labor strike, 罢工 / bàgōng, is another) likely because it is often connected with the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. However, a more common variant of the word, 游行 (notice the missing strokes on left and bottom of the first character), has always been unblocked. 抗议 (kàngyì), the general word for “protest” has never been blocked, while 示威 (shìwēi), a common word for demonstrations, was blocked but has since been unblocked. One can compare the nuances in usage by examining Google or Baidu image searches of each term:

  • 抗议 (protest): top results for both are of small groups of Western protesters, usually nude
  • 示威 (demonstration): Baidu=similar to protest;  Google=more violent images, larger gatherings, and a few Chinese news report stills
  • 遊行 (blocked version of “march”): Baidu=happy Chinese parade-goers and floats; Google=a mix of political and celebratory demonstrations and gathering
  • 游行 (unblocked version of “march”): Baidu=same as previous; Google=roughly the same as previous
  • 巡遊/游 (parade): Baidu=images of parade floats; Google=a mix of parade floats and parade-goers
  • 罢工 (strike [blocked on Weibo]): Baidu=violent images, including some Chinese ones; Google=less violent, but larger gatherings than the Baidu ones


刘宾雁 (Liu Binyan) was a Chinese author and journalist, as well as a political dissident. He was labeled a rightist in 1957 for his writing, and even after rehabilitation, he continued to critique the government throughout the ensuring decades. He is perhaps best known for People or Monsters, his 1979 book on Wang Shouxin, a government official who was involved in a corruption scandal. He was the president of the Chinese PEN Center and served numerous stints in labor camps. He was known as “China’s conscience” (中国的良心).

Why it is blocked: Liu’s searing reportage and commentary earned him a reputation as a government watchdog. He was finally expelled from the Chinese Communist Party after attempting to organize student demonstrations in December 1986. He died in 2005—living in exile in the U.S. [Status - 11/15/11: blocked; 2/5/12: blocked]



徐勤先 (Xu Qinxian) was a Major General in the Chinese PLA and the commander of the 38th Army during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He famously refused an order to forcefully eject the students from the square when martial law was declared and was subsequently stripped of his command and jailed for five years

Why it is blocked: Xu’s insubordination during the crackdown was not unique among soldiers, many of whom were sympathetic to the protester’s cause. However, his is the most prominent case, though it was not reported on within China.



血案 (xue’an) is an informal term for a murder or massacre (the more formal, common term is 谋杀, mousha). It literally means “blood case.”

Why it is blocked: Obviously, it is a reference to violence, though at first glance, it doesn’t seem any more bloody than mousha, which is unblocked. However, xue’an seems to be a phrase often used to describe the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. 屠杀 (tusha) is another word for massacre that is blocked for similar reasons.

Note: As 血案 isn’t actually an entry in Wikipedia, I only stumbled upon it after noticing that 一个馒头引发的血案, a parody video of Chen Kaige’s flop The Promise, was blocked.



一六四〇年英国革命史 (History of the English revolution of 1640) is a book written by French historian François Guizot in 1845, translated into English by William Hazlitt.

Why it is blocked: It’s not banned for the reason you might think—the word “revolution” (革命 geming) is searchable and yields 9 million+ results. Instead, the trigger in this phrase is the date, 一六四〇 (1640)—and, in fact, one specific part of the date: 六四. Like “64,” a few other dates and numbers are blocked. See Scunthorpe problem.



坦克 (tank / tanke) is a transliteration of the English word “tank.” It is an armored vehicle first used in WWI.

Why it is blocked:

Tank man