Showing posts tagged politics

秘书帮 (secretary gangmìshu bāng): the secretaries in question are not your typical clerical workers, but the powerful party secretaries and protégés of embattled retired Politburo member Zhou Yongkang. In the past week, two more close political associates of Zhou’s were detained for investigation for “serious violation of discipline” (a euphemism for corruption) by the CCP’s Discipline Committee. After a pair of China Business Journal articles popularly described the group as a “secretary gang,” the term is now found in articles in local papers, Baidu Baike, and even the official China Youth Daily. “Secretary gang” is also a sort of reference to the Shanghai gang, a term used to criticize former president Jiang Zemin’s close allies, who were also accused of corruption.

Why it is blocked: And while none of the articles make direct mention of Zhou Yongkang’s name it appears that Zhou is being methodically prepared for a downfall. (Update: As of February 27, a Baidu Baike user edited the article’s oblique reference about “a certain retired member of the standing committee” to Zhou directly; one wonders how quickly that version will stay.) The investigation of Zhou, who is already reportedly under house arrest, is drawing intense scrutiny from domestic and foreign observers as to how far Xi Jinping is willing to crack down on corruption at even the highest levels of the Party—or use the charge as a fig leaf to take down someone who was once Bo Xilai’s most ardent supporter. 

While blocking a politician’s name is often about protecting them from criticism, one might argue that in this case the government is less concerned with protecting Zhou than with controlling any sort of discussion that might spring up from an opening up of Zhou’s misdeeds for public discussion. The government’s crackdown last summer on online rumors—which included the targeting of journalists and anti-corruption watchdogs who were once encouraged by authorities—shows that officials are still incredibly wary of the unpredictable nature of Internet discourse.

Wen Jiabao (“温家宝”) unable to be posted on Weibo; error message returned

I’m not certain when this began, but as of right now, you can’t post any message on Weibo with Wen Jiabao’s name (“温家宝”). Doing so returns the following message (full size image):


Rough translation: Sorry, this content violates “Sina Weibo’s Community Administrative Rules" or other related regulatory policies, and we’re unable to execute the intended action. If you need assistance, please contact customer service.

FreeWeibo shows posts containing Wen Jiabao still being deleted today. Searches for Wen’s name have been blocked continuously for some time now (he was unblocked briefly during the Party Congress and for the ten days after), but being unable to post his name at all is another more extreme step. Attempting to post “彭博社” (Bloomberg) also returns the same error message. By comparison, I checked several hundred other sensitive politician’s names in the past week and no one else had this form of censorship. Can folks confirm that they are unable to post 温家宝 on their end as well?

<宪法法院 (constitutional court) blocked during Southern Weekend controversy>


宪法法院 (constitutional court / xiànfǎ fǎyuàn) is the court charged with adjudicating cases that concern the constitution. In some countries, it is distinct from a supreme court, which is the highest court in a country and the court of last resort for non-constitutional cases. In the United States, the Supreme Court does both tasks. China’s Supreme People’s Court serves in the model of a supreme court and does not currently have the power of constitutional review

Why it is blocked: The power of the courts is a controversial issue in China. The modern Chinese court system is often a less–than-independent entity and there is no separation of powers between the courts and the state to prevent the state from abusing its authority. In recent years under Xiao Yang, the president of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) from 1998-2008, a number of reforms held promise. In 2001, the Supreme People’s Court agreed to rule on a case and decided that a student, Qi Yuling, should be awarded damages after another student stole her identity and test scores to attend college. But what made the case more interesting was not just the decision, but the argument: the Court premised their ruling on the Chinese Constitution, arguing that according to the document, Qi had the right to an education, the first time the Court had asserted its ability to oversee the Constitution. As the case was decidedly non-political, legal scholars saw this as a gradual introduction of constitutional review into the Chinese legal system. However, those hopes were temporarily dashed after the Communist Party re-asserted its power over the courts and issued a doctrine known as the Three Supremes: “In their work, the grand judges and grand procurators shall always regard as supreme the party’s cause, the people’s interest and the constitution and laws.” It held that judges must consider political ramifications and social stability in addition to the law. In 2008, Wang Shengjun, who does not have a law background, was appointed as the new President of the Supreme People’s Court, and in 2009, the landmark Qi Yuling ruling was withdrawn, an indication that the SPC was stepping away from making constitutional judgments.   

The question of what role the courts should play and the importance of upholding China’s constitution exploded at the beginning of January 2013 when the highly-respected Southern Weekend (also known in English as Southern Weekly) magazine’s editors objected to the severe editing (cough, censorship) of their annual New Year’s editorial. The editorial, which concerned the need for improved constitutional rule, was replaced by a paean to the Communist Party. Southern Weekend editors and staffers went on strike and the drama—which involved public demonstrations by citizenscoded messages of support from media outlets and companies fed up with censorship, a teary-eyed refusal to print an editorial attacking Southern Weekend by its sister magazine, and even calls of solidarity from glamorous celebrities—served as an inauspicious start to the Xi Jinping era. Eventually a truce was struck: Southern Weekend staffers returned to their offices while several officials either lost or will lose their jobs (reportedly including the despised Guangdong propaganda chief who started the tempest, Tuo Zhen).

My records show the term has been blocked for over a year, and thus has been sensitive for some time. However, according to, it was unblocked in November 2012, before becoming re-blocked some time in late-December—around the start of the Southern Weekend controversy.


Perhaps the block is coincidental, but depending on when exactly the block of 宪法法院 took place, one could make a credible case that it is related to the event.

See also 宪政民主 (constitutional democracy / xiànzhèng mínzhǔ).

宪政民主 (constitutional democracy / xiànzhèng mínzhǔ), closely related to liberal democracy, is generally classified as a government that holds free elections, has a separation of powers between different branches of government, and maintains respect for minority and majority rights, among other principles.

Why it is blocked: Today, China is not a constitutional democracy, though it has attempted to initiate certain reforms in recent years to perhaps move it in that direction–if future party leaders so choose.*  Direct elections take place at certain local levels, and the country’s Supreme Court appeared to be moving towards becoming an autonomous body during the 2000s before its power was curtailed. However, on the whole, any discussion of political reform is strictly suppressed. For instance, when Premier Wen Jiabao made references in a number of 2010 speeches to China’s need to take up more democratic measures,  his own remarks were censored by state media

Unlike 宪法法院 (constitutional court / xiànfǎ fǎyuàn), 宪政民主 has not been blocked throughout all of 2012 and does not appear to have been unblocked at any point. It’s “sensitive” nature pre-dates the Southern Weekend controversy.

*Chrystia Freeland reminds us that countries like China and Russia have cleverly exploited their spoken desire for greater freedoms in order to justify their current more illiberal practices—essentially, declaring that they are on the right path but just need more time.

组织者 (organizer / zǔzhīzhě) is a person who organizes. 

Why it is blocked: Like the English definition, 组织者 has a mostly neutral connotation. In Chinese, it can refer to the organizers of a meeting or a conference as well as the organizers of a union, community, or political party. It can even refer to an athlete like Steve Nash or Peyton Manning who organizes teammates around him during a play. Of course, it’s not for sports reasons that “organizer” is blocked: it’s the organizing of labor strikes, independence movements, protests, and democratic reform campaigns that worries authorities.

(conquered nationwángguó) can be translated as “vanished country” or “a state heading for destruction/downfall.” It’s generally used to describe when an outside power has defeated a nation in war, either wiping it out or causing it to lose its independence. Examples include the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the U.S., the conquering of the First Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, and the subjugation of the Korean Empire by Imperial Japan in 1910. It is also the Chinese title of the somewhat controversial 2005 Japanese action thriller Aegis (Bôkoku no îjisu).

Why it is blocked: Perhaps the term is used by Tibetans or citizens in Xinjiang to describe Chinese control of their provinces? Or maybe netizens use it to insult the future state of China or to describe instances of China appearing to bow to outside/American influences? The term popped up in several news reports related to China’s recent dispute with the Philippines in the South China Seas. However, it is also widely used in an apolitical manner, often to describe something that is extinct or a situation wherein someone is suppressing another.

上海帮 (Shanghai Gang or Shanghai Clique / Shànghǎi bāng) is a nickname given to a group of high-level CCP politicians who were most prominent during the 1990s and early-2000s. These politicians usually had strong ties to then-president Jiang Zemin, who came to power as the mayor and party chief in Shanghai. Jiang packed the Politburo with his former subordinates, but since his leaving office in 2003, the Shanghai Gang’s influence has arguably waned.

Why it is blocked: 上海帮, like “Shanghai Gang” in English, has a decidedly pejorative connotation, implying underhanded dealings and cronyism. Peter McGregor’s The Party has a fantastic chapter on how the central government was able to rein in the group’s power by arresting and imprisoning one of Jiang’s most trusted allies, Chen Liangyu, on corruption charges. As the Communist Party essentially runs China, it can be helpful to think of groups like the Shanghai Gang and the Youth League faction (团派 / tuánpài—also blocked on Weibo) as China’s de facto form of political parties. These alliances are often based on personal connections as well as ideology. For a government which likes to present itself as unified on all fronts, writing about such political in-fighting is no doubt frowned upon. [Status]

膏药旗 (gāoyàoqí) is a colloquial name for the Japanese flag, often used in a derogatory fashion. 

Why it is blockedGāoyào is a Chinese medicinal patch, like a large band-aid that comes pre-packaged with an ointment used to treat aches and pains. Because the backside of many patches resembles the famous sun disc image of the Japanese flag, it is used pejoratively to refer to the Japanese flag, akin to calling the German flag Schwarz-Rot-Mostrich (“black-red-mustard”). Though on friendly terms today, Japan and China share a fraught past, with the Japanese invasions during the First Sino-Japanese War and WWII still not forgiven by most Chinese, leading to flashpoints like former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and controversy in 2005 over Japan’s adoption of textbooks that reportedly glossed over the country’s WWII atrocities. Most recently, in September 2010, a Chinese fishing trawler collided with a Japanese Coast Guard boat in disputed waters. An international incident was touched off when Japan initially detained the crew but later released after facing intense Chinese diplomatic pressure and nationalism-fueled mass protest. In an indication of how complex China-Japan relations are, the Chinese government has even had to tamp down its own protesters in 2005 and 2010 in order to control anti-Japanese fervor—this after being accused of encouraging that very behavior earlier. However, to block gaoyaoyi, a seemingly minor slight relative to the other obscenities hurled toward Japan online, is curious considering no other similar anti-Japan words are blocked (one of the most common anti-Japanese insults, 日本鬼子, roughly translated as Japanese devils, has over 700,000 search results on Weibo).

维基揭密 / 維基揭密 (WikiLeaks / Wéijījiēmì) is an online organization that publishes submissions of secret and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. 维基 is a transliteration of “Wiki” while the last two characters can be written in various ways (see note below for discussion of variations on word), all of which roughly mean “uncovering/explaining secrets.”

Why it blocked: China, like the U.S. is deathly afraid of government leaks and is no doubt concerned about what WL has in its treasure trove of secret documents. Already, Wikileaks has revealed Chinese willingness to abandon North Korea, as well as other embarrassing (if true) rumors like Wen Jiabao’s “disgust” with his wife’s corruption. In the U.S., merely even reading WikiLeaks cables may have repercussions on your job prospects, and just last week a U.S. Foreign Service Officer was dismissed for linking to WikiLeaks on his blog, among other allegations. Nothing similar exists in China at the moment. [Status - 3/12/12, 3/23/12: blocked]

Note: Both the above simplified and traditional versions have roughly the same number of Google hits.  Swaps for the third and fourth characters are common. “Jie” can be written as 解, meaning “explain,” or 揭, meaning “uncover.” “Mi” can be written as 秘, meaning “secret,” or 密, meaning “dense” (put together, 秘密, they form the word “secret”). Some of these alternative variations—for instance 维基解密, apparently the most popular way to translate the term, with roughly 9 million Google hits vs. less than a million for the two above blocked versions—are unblocked. 

军阀 (warlord / jūnfá) is a person who has both military and civil control over a subnational area due to armed forces loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. Chinese history is replete with cases of warlords fomenting rebellion (or valiantly defending their territory, depending on your point of view), in particular during the Three Kingdoms era and the period from the end of the Qing Dynasty to reunification in 1928, known as the Warlord Era.

Why it is blocked: This is another case of a non-contemporary word seemingly being unnecessarily blocked. China did reach one of its weakest points during the terrible infighting during the Warlord Era, and Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat of the warlords is often credited to the KMT and not to the Chinese Communist Party, which contributed troops and resources while allied with the KMT as the First United Front. But the block is probably due to netizens comparing their corrupt and abusive local leaders to warlords. [Status - 11/13/11: blocked; 2/5/12: blocked].

元老 (yuánlǎo) is a term for a veteran or old leader, but in the context of the Chinese Communist Party, it refers to the Eight Elders. These senior leaders, headed by Deng Xiaoping, held substantial power during the 1980s and 1990s. In the English-speaking world, these men are often sarcastically called The Eight Immortals.

Why it is blocked: Though the Eight Elders were not the heads of state and were not recognized as an official body in the Constitution, major decisions had to be run through them. During the June 4 demonstrations, it was the Elders who drove Politburo discussions which eventually led to the crackdown. A new wave of elders (including Jiang Zemin) has since replaced the original eight, but they do not wield the power that the 1980s and 90s body once did. [Status - 11/17/11: blocked; 2/5/12, 3/12/12: unblocked]