Showing posts tagged media

七宗罪 (seven deadly sinsqī zōng zuì) are a category of vices that according to Catholic teachings threaten a person with eternal damnation. They are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. The phrase was blocked on Weibo until October 2012, at which point it was unblocked. It remains searchable to this day.

Why it is blocked: At the time I was writing my book in 2012, I theorized that the word might be related to religious sensitivity or some other moral issue, but otherwise was quite mystified as to the specific reason for the censorship. However, while reading Emily Parker’s Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, I finally connected the dots: in the book, she interviews numerous Chinese bloggers and activists, including Michael Anti. She notes that in 2002, Anti, who was fed up with traditional Chinese news media, wrote a guide for aspiring reporters entitled Manual for New Journalists (新新闻人自学手册), which included exhortations like:

After we’ve said ‘F**ck’ to the giant media system we can begin our individual journeys through the desert to become new journalists. Maybe we won’t successfully reach the Holy Land of freedom of the press, but at least we will leave the enslavement of truth. (translation from Parker)

The guide included an appendix (也谈中国新闻记者七宗罪 | Sina mirror) that listed the “seven deadly sins” of Chinese reporters: ignorance, cowardice, thirst for power, naïveté, pride, low self-esteem, and despair. The “seven deadly sins” are thus not related to any religious improprieties, but rather the moral failures Chinese journalists should watch out for. The “seven deadly sins” appendix along with the other documents in the manual serve as a passionate attack on traditional Chinese news media and a call for a new generation of journalists to take their place—criticism that authorities no doubt did not look kindly upon.

Note: If you are interested in digital activism, I highly recommend you take a look at Emily Parker’s Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, out next week. I hope to write more about it later, but suffice it to say it’s an insightful look at how some bloggers and activists in China, Cuba, and Russia are using the Internet. Filled with interviews of these folks on the front lines, it was an especially good palate cleanser for me after reading Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Hereyet she also does a very good job acknowledging the limitations of the Internet and those who utilize it. Clearly, as evidenced by this post, I learned a lot from it.



Here’s a long, wide-ranging interview I did with VICE magazine about Internet censorship in China. Thank you Reihan for the thoughtful questions and for putting up with my rambling.

Also, if any folks are in DC, I’ll be giving a lunchtime talk at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service on Friday, Jan 24. It’s free and open to the public, so please share with any who are in the area and might be interested. Much appreciated.


万鄂湘亚视 (Wan Exiang, Asia Television / Wàn Èxiāng Yàshì) refers to a reported visit that law professor and a vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court Wan Exiang made to an Asia Television office in Hong Kong. Hong Kong media photographed the unofficial, embroiled* head of ATV Wang Zheng greeting Wan and reported that Wang wined and dined his mainland friend. Furthermore, Wang supposedly ordered a number of female Miss Asia beauty pageant contestants—ATV broadcasts the annual Miss Asia pageant—to accompany them to dinner and entertain them. Though the article doesn’t go so far as to suggest anything more than singing took place, the juxtaposition of young females and a mainland Chinese legal administrator in a headline were apparently enough to land this keyword onto LINE’s bad words list.


*Wang, who is from mainland China, is not technically allowed to run ATV since ATV is a free-to-air television station in Hong Kong. Hong Kong media laws were written this way to prevent meddling by Chinese authorities—which is what Wang is alleged to have done, by promoting pro-mainland coverage, leading for calls to dismiss him and punish ATV.

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.



Hi all, the book is out! If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the past two years, please go out and buy a copy or spread the word to a friend. I think more than just sharing information about sensitive topics in Chinese history, past and current, I hope it can start a conversation about why governments are motivated to control information. It’s only by first understanding what the motives are for censorship before we can think of ways to convince authorities to protect/expand the limits of free speech.

If you want to hear more about the book (if you’re at this site, you probably already have a good idea of what’s in it!), you can read/listen to the following interviews I recently did:

And two of my favorite China academics had this to say about the book:

  • "This is a fascinating study with important implications for anyone who is interested in the intellectual and political climate of contemporary China. Highly recommended." - Victor H, Mair, University of Pennsylvania
  • "This book’s funny, smart & will be fun 2 teach w/ China in 10 Words … After dipping into his new Blocked on Weibo book & both laughing & learning, surprised I wasn’t already following @jasonqng —rectified that.” - two tweets from Jeff Wasserstrom, University of California, Irvine

And if you’re curious about what I’ll be working on next, check out this Citizen Lab post. Thanks for reading this blog the past two years!

(photo credit: Michael Gregory, CBC)



国殇 (Martyrs of the Nationguóshāng) was a documentary TV series broadcasted by the Hong Kong-based Sun TV in September 2010. It chronicled the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), with particular focus on the role that the Koumintang (KMT)—the Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-shek that ruled over China during the War—played in defeating the Japanese.

Why it is blocked: Before the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the KMT waged a ruthless campaign to wipe out the Communists. However, when confronted with the Japanese invasion, the two sides mutually decided (due partially to patriotism, due partially to the Communists kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek and forcing him to end his purge of the Communists) to form an alliance. After the defeat of the Japanese, the two sides resumed their civil war, with the Communists eventually winning in 1949 and the KMT fleeing to Taiwan.

Though the KMT suffered 3 million casualties during the Second Sino-Japanese War (the numerically smaller Communists suffered roughly 500,000) and spearheaded many of the major battles, the KMT’s role in the victory has been relegated to a secondary position or intentionally overlooked in modern mainland historical narratives and textbooks. A September 3, 2010 People’s Daily editorial wrote:

The victory in the War of Resistance to Japan gives an eloquent proof that CPC is the force at the core that has saved the Chinese nation from subjugation and realized the nationwide liberation.

Thus, a film like Martyrs of the Nation which questions the notion that it was the Communist Party that chiefly led China to victory would undoubtedly be looked upon unkindly by the mainland government, which of course is led almost exclusively by the CCP. (Even though nominal opposition parties, including a form of the KMT, technically exist, they hold no real power.)

The PRC had already blocked Sun TV’s right to broadcast to the mainland in 2009, so the series was only available to mainland viewers via DVDs or online. All 40 episodes are available for free on Sun TV’s YouTube channel.



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!



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 ( / guō) or plates/dishes ( / 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]



我的奋斗 (Mein Kampf / Wǒde Fèndòu) is an autobiography and book of political theory by Adolf Hitler.

Why it is blocked: Searching for the title on Amazon China or Taobao will cut off your Internet connection to the site (though curiously, those searching from within China can access the book just fine). Besides being the work of one of the 20th-century’s most infamous dictators, Mein Kampf is also known for its inflammatory anti-communist views—another reason for the CCP to restrict it. However, due to his strong leadership and emphasis on social stability, Hitler is reported to be admired by some Chinese—though this is arguably due to ignorance rather than actual malice (the same way some Westerners embrace Mao). In May 2011, there was a bizarre Internet rumor that Hitler was raised by a Chinese family in Vienna, with a number of bloggers taking pride in China’s supposed connection with Hitler. [Status - 11/29/11: blocked; 2/5/12: unblocked; 3/12/12: blocked]

Note: 阿道夫·希特勒 (Adolf Hitler / ādàofū xītèlè) is not blocked on Weibo, Amazon.cn, or Taobao.



UPDATE: The key trigger in Deauville is “多維,” short for Duowei Times, a New York-based Chinese language newspaper which is known for its mostly even-handed news coverage. It may still be possible that Deauville is being singled out for censorship, but it is perhaps more likely that Duowei Times is the actual target and Deauville is a mostly innocent keyword.

多维尔 (Deauville / duōwéi’ěr) is a famed seaside resort city in northwestern France. Each year it holds the prestigious Deauville American Film Fesitval along with the lesser well-known but similarly respected Deauville Asian Film Festival (法国多维尔亚洲电影节), which concluded its 14th edition yesterday. The Iranian film Querelles (aka Mourning) won the top prize, the Golden Lotus.

Why it is blocked: Over the years, alongside the typical Wuxia and art films at any Asian film festival, Deauville has screened a number of incredibly raw Chinese films that engage sensitive contemporary topics. The 2010 Grand Prize winner, Judge, is about a death row inmate and the judge who controls his fate. The 2003 winner, Blind Shaft, is a brutal depiction of life as a coal miner in northern China and was banned in the PRC. [Status - 11/19/11, 2/5/12, 3/12/12: blocked]

Two quotes:

Judge touches on a lot of topics considered sensitive in China. Did you have a lot of difficulty getting approval to make the film? Yes, there were some difficulties but we overcame them in the end. The most difficult thing was the fact that government departments were not sure about this, and they didn’t want this talked about.There were two reasons I think this film was approved. Firstly, the authenticity of the film […] every single sentence and every detail in the film is very accurate – if there were any small mistakes they picked them up.—Liu Jie, director of Judge

Your film has been banned, but why didn’t the government crack down on the novel? It is quite unusual in China. Certain aspects of Chinese politics are strange and many things don’t follow homogenous standards. It is defined as “One Country, Two Systems” but it really is “one country with several systems”. Every department seems to have its own rules […] I don’t actually understand how it works, but I can say that the Chinese Film Bureau is one of the most conservative of the artistic institutions. They probably heavily restrict films because they think movies can become a means of propaganda, instead of entertainment and artistic expression.—Li Yang, director of Blind Shaft



开放杂志 (Open Magazine / kāifàng zázhì) is a Hong Kong monthly magazine founded in January 1987. Its original title was Liberation Monthly.

Why it is blocked: Since its first publication amidst the burgeoning reform protests in China, the magazine has been known for its strong support of pro-democracy activities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. It famously published interviews with dissident Liu Xiaobo, including the notorious one where Liu said tongue-in-cheek that China might be better off under Hong Kong-style colonialism. It has also published numerous books under the name Open Books/Open Press, including a set of interviews with Zhao Ziyang while he was under house arrest and a retrospective on the 1989 protests. It celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The magazine is banned in China.

Note: As is the case for most Hong Kong media, the title will generally be found online written with the traditional characters “開放雜誌.” While the simplified version of the name is blocked on Weibo, the traditional one is not. [Status - 11/23/11: blocked; 2/5/12: blocked]



彭博社 (Bloomberg / Péngbóshè) is an American privately held financial software, media, and data company. Bloomberg L.P. was founded by Michael Bloomberg (current Mayor of New York City).

Why it is blocked: A number of foreign media outlets are blocked on Weibo, including Voice of America, the World Journal, and Epoch Times, but Bloomberg is notable in that it might be considered an apolitical corporation. Chinese authorities blocked Bloomberg’s website in June 2012 after it published an exposé on the wealth accumulated by future president Xi Jinping’s family, but this search block on Weibo predates that article. Currently, one is unable to make a post that contains 彭博社. Trying to do so will return the error message, “Sorry, this content violates ‘Sina Weibo’s Community Guidelines’ or related regulations and policies.” [Status - 11/25/11: blocked; 2/5/12: blocked; 3/12/12: blocked]