Showing posts tagged meta

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.

If you’re in New York next week, I’ll be giving a talk for my book at NYU, 20 Cooper Square, 4th floor on Thursday, October 17 at 6:30. Do come by and say hello. If you’d like me to stop by a city near you, feel free to connect me with venues/bookstores/schools in your city that you think might be interested in having me talk. Thanks as always to everyone for the support.

<Which Chinese politicians get blocked (from criticism) on Weibo>

A momentary break from the usual posts: first, a thank you to Tumblr for featuring the blog in its Tumblr Radar. Glad to reach out to new folks and hope you all continue to find this interesting. Second, I’ll be presenting a draft paper I wrote with Pierre Landry at the Chinese Internet Research Conference held this year at the Oxford Internet Institute. I’m flying out tomorrow and look forward to meeting all the attendees. Below is the abstract of the paper and a link to the pdf. After the jump, find out which 19 CCP politicians are still explicitly blocked on Weibo (they’re probably not the ones you expect).

The Political Hierarchy of Censorship: An Analysis of Keyword Blocking of CCP Officials’ Names on Sina Weibo before and after the 2012 National Congress (S)election

This paper seeks to use the dynamics of Internet censorship by China’s most important social media site, Sina Weibo, to achieve a better understanding of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012. To this end, searches were performed daily on the names of all 2,270 delegates to the Party Congress on Sina Weibo for five weeks before and after the event. Data recorded included information on the number of results reported and whether the keywords were reported to be blocked or not. As a complement to work by researchers including Gary King, David Bamman, King-wa Fu, and Tao Zhu into Chinese social media censorship, our study concludes that Sina Weibo actively manipulated and filtered the search results of Communist Party delegates—particularly higher-ranked and incumbent officials—during the observation period, with an apparent decrease in search blocks after the Party Congress. This study offers evidence that the Party, through proxies like Sina Weibo, proactively attempts to shape public opinion online, just as they do in traditional media. The decrease in search blocks perhaps indicates that the Party is still seeking to find a balance between utilizing the Internet as a check on officials and suppressing social media to prevent dissent; or perhaps it is a short-term effect due to a new wave of leaders taking office.

Read More

<Back from China>

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.

<Lesbian (女同) and Cai Fuchao (蔡赴朝) unblocked>

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 (lesbiannǚtóng) 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]

<Two more self-links: Asia Pacific Forum radio segment with Rebecca MacKinnon and The Next Web interview>

Last two, I promise:

  • My good friend Audrea Lim was kind enough to have me on her WBAI radio show Asia Pacific Forum to discuss this website and online dissent in China. More exciting was the fact that my co-guest was the esteemed Rebecca MacKinnon, whose new book Consent of the Networked ties together so many essential threads when it comes to thinking about the future of the Internet. Thanks to Audrea and her co-host Hyun Lee along with Rebecca and her superstar publicist Caitlin Graf. (Oh, and please excuse my nasally voice during the show. I usually don’t sound so nerdy and stuck-up; I’m still working through a cold, I swear!)
  • I also got a chance to do an email interview with Jon Russell, Asia editor of The Next Web as part of their Tumblr Tuesday series. Thanks to Jon for setting it up and giving me the space to answer at length.

<Various write-ups, press, and interviews>

It’s been busy these past few days traveling home for the Qingming festival. I’ll get back to the usual posts later in the week. For now, I figured I’d indulge myself and collect a few of the write-ups the site has gotten recently. 

<Quick explanations for sea cucumber, yellow, evolution, candle wax, and three-color cat and a request to please read more carefully>

Update 3/22/12: Read this Disinformation article on my concerns with people misinterpreting this site.

To those who are new to the site, please wander over to the About section to get a better sense of what this site is tracking (or better yet read this article). I am NOT uncovering words that are blocked by the Chinese government. These are words that are voluntarily self-censored by one Internet company in China. I’m a bit dismayed at the various sites which are using the words I’ve uncovered as merely punchlines to the “How crazy is China these days?” question. China is not crazy. It’s a fascinating and interesting country with flaws like any other country. 

There are usually specific reasons why a word is blocked (on this, I stress again, one site) and my goal is to provide the context for why. The generalizations that I’ve seen from people who’ve picked up this site have been scarily ignorant, and I guess I’m partly to blame for allowing my list to get so easily misinterpreted. My apologies. So as of now I’m removing my untranslated full list of blocked words (though I’ll leave up two samples which I have translated) in order to reduce the chance that someone will misinterpret my results.

Ok, on to the fun stuff. A few quick explanations for some words I’ve seen floating around:

  • Phoenix the band is not banned in China (if a Chinese person wanted to write about an American band, they’d probably just use the English word, hence, 100,000+ search results on Weibo for “Radiohead” while only 20,000+ for the Chinese name (电台司令) for the band). 火凤凰, aka, FirePhoenix is an encryption and anti-censorship software used to circumvent the Great Firewall in China, similar in a way to Ultrasurf.
  • Sea Cucumbers are not banned in China. The reason 玉足海参 is blocked is because the first two characters (玉足, literally jade foot) are some sort of reference to foot fetishism (SFW Google image search). More on foot fetishism here.
  • Evolution is not banned in China. In fact, more people believe in evolution in China than the United States. The English word “evolution” is indeed blocked on Weibo, probably not out of malice toward Darwin and his theory, but likely because the censors at Weibo messed up and meant to block “revolution” (my best guess).
    [Update 4/13/12: Bloodandtreasure notes “I think it’s probably more to do with John Foster Dulles’ concept of peaceful evolution away from Communist rule; guarding against which was offered as a justification for Tiananmen, among other things. This is still a significant part of the CPC’s outlook, though maybe not as central as it was.” Great guess, but why isn’t 和平演变 blocked? Very curious. But indeed, it is still a very significant part of the CCP’s outlook.]
  • Cande wax is not blocked in China. 滴蜡 (literally, “drip candle[wax]”) is indeed blocked, and unfortunately, Google simply translated it as candle wax. The actual intention of the censor was to block wax play, the sexual activity.
  • Cats of three colors are not indiscriminately killed in China. The term “colored cat” (any color at all) will be blocked. This is likely because it is a reference to the Deng Xiaoping saying “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice it’s good.” I explain it more clearly (with an adorable cat pic) in this post.
  • Yellow isn’t censored in China (yes, there are yellow crayons in China; you will not go to jail if you wear a yellow shirt) but rather the Chinese characters for yellow (黄色) are blocked because it can be used to describe pornography.
  • Food allergies aren’t banned, but rather a phrase (敏感, meaning “sensitive,” ie, politically sensitive or otherwise) within the word (食物敏感) is blocked.
  • "Opening a magazine" isn’t banned, but rather it’s the characters for Open Magazine (开放杂志), a magazine known for its democratic leanings, which are being blocked.

Will return with typical blog entries in the coming days. Thanks for reading!

<Article on Waging Nonviolence explaining my Blocked on Weibo project in more detail>

For those with more questions about how China censors and how I conducted this project of mine, I have an article now up on Waging Nonviolence entitled “How China Gets the Internet to Censor Itself.”

Thanks to the various blogs and Twitter folks who picked up the site over the weekend and today (including Hacker News, The Next Web, UNWIRE.HK, this Polish blog I can’t read [I hope it’s positive!], and others).


Hi all, I finished my search of 700,000 terms a couple weeks ago and I’ve started analyzing the data. Look for more regular posts in the coming weeks. In light of Twitter’s recent announcement that it may allow censorship as it intends to more aggressively expand overseas and Weibo’s much-debated push for real-name registration on the site (and the backlash), I’ll be writing up a short article on my results soon. Of interest is that a number of the bans on Weibo (like tank and Muslim, which were blocked at the time I searched them in November) no longer seem to be in effect. So please note that blocked words posted before February 2012 may no longer be blocked (they were blocked as of the time of their posting).

<Search result logs and full list of banned words>

UPDATE 3/21/12: Because the initial Google translations provided for these words have been misinterpreted as their actual meanings, I’m taking down the full list of words I’ve uncovered thus far. If you still really want to see them, you can maybe do a Wayback search for this page. Otherwise, please read my blocked word posts wherein I’ve provided proper translations and context for why they are blocked on Weibo. The sample of words presented here are words blocked on Sina Weibo; these are not a list of words blocked by the Chinese government. The list also changes frequently, so the words posted here may have since been unblocked. This is not a list of ALL words blocked on Weibo, merely the ones I found in my searches. Please read this Disinfo article before re-using content in this post.

UPDATE 2/25/12: I finally finished searching through the 700,000 Chinese Wikipedia keywords last month and have found roughly 1000 words to be blocked (you can download/view a list of all 1,574 here).

Sample of blocked words

direct link | full post and summary

direct link | full post and analysis


I’m planning on searching through a lot of words to see if they are blocked on Weibo. Ideally, going forward, I’d also be able to check the status of previously banned words to see if they’re still blocked. As this is a rather large undertaking (think SETI :), if you’d like to help and are fairly handy around a computer* (or simply good at following directions), let me know and I’ll send you a chunk of words along with instructions on how to check them. It does require a modicum of effort, but hopefully, as I refine my script, it’ll be mostly hands-free.

If you read about or discover a banned word, or if you want to write up a short summary of one of already found blocked words for me to post, feel free to submit it to me. Alternatively, you can message me on Twitter @jasonqng.

*You’ll need to be able to install a program on your computer, copy and paste files, type some words in a command line, and then send me the finished file when it’s all done. The rest is mostly automated (you can let it run all night while you sleep), but you may need need to intervene at various points. Don’t worry, it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds. Hopefully, as I play around with this some more, the majority of these tasks will become automated.