Showing posts tagged beijing

地铁涨价方案 (subway price increase plan / dìtiě zhǎngjià fāng’àn) refers to Beijing’s plan to shift its subway fares from the current rate of 2 yuan per trip (roughly 30 cents) to a distance-based price system. Beijing has among the cheapest subway fares in China, and the system is heavily subsidized by the state, with the government claiming they lose 5 yuan on every trip.

Why it is blocked: The plan was floated in late 2013, igniting outcry among subway users online after forthcoming price adjustments were officially confirmed in March of this year. The story picked up steam again last week when a photograph of a supposed document outlining the specific price increases was circulated. The alleged document stated that short trips would rise to 3 yuan, and long trips would be capped at 5 yuan.

However, while previous discussion of the price increases show results that appear to have been mostly uncensored, with large numbers of posts criticizing the plan (though a fair number do support it, arguing that the increases may reduce the subway’s notorious overcrowding), posts sharing this new document were censored according to Free Weibo. Authorities quickly denounced the document and stated that pricing plans were still being evaluated. Not all posts containing the photo of the document were deleted: for instance, this one from China Daily, a state newspaper, were allowed to stand as they contained a message refuting the document.

No doubt, Beijing authorities are very sensitive to the potential for increasing unrest surrounding the issue, which gets at the rising income inequality in the city. (More about this in my WSJ article.)

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.

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.

帝都 实行宵禁 (Imperial capital implements night curfew / dìdōu shíxíng xiāojìn): the imperial capital likely refers to Beijing while the night curfew in question perhaps was the that would supposedly be enforced during the 2008 Beijing Sumer Olympics. NBC News reported:

For weeks leading up to the Olympics, reports had surfaced that officials would crack down and curtail the rambunctious partying Beijing — and the rest of China — is known for. Signs warning against drugs and prostitution were posted all around Sanlitun, an area known for those vices… . Officials also said that bars and clubs would be shutting off the taps and music at 2 a.m., a curfew that was never honored before… . But all the concerns seemed to be much ado about nothing. All along Sanlitun bar street Tuesday night, people were sitting outside one of the dozens of bars, enjoying the (relatively) cool Beijing night as security volunteers and police stood nearby.

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.

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.


  1. Look at these two clever pictures! Haha. (看到两张神图![哈哈])
  2. Just as the great leader said: The people, only the people, are the driving force in the creation of world history. Netizens are truly gifted! So creative. (【正如伟大领袖所言:人民,只有人民,才是创造世界历史的动力!网民太有才了!太有创意了!】)
  3.  [Pitiful emoticon] [可怜]

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.”

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.