Showing posts tagged protest

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.

image
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.



和田 暴乱 (Hotan rebellionHétián bàoluàn) was a series of incidents that took place in July 2011 in the Xinjiang city of Hotan. As mentioned in the previous post, the northwestern province of Xinjiang is home to many Uyghurs—an ethnic minority group in China, many of whom follow Islam—and of whom continue to suffer great hardships and discrimination at the hands of the dominant Han majority, despite the governments efforts.

However, sometimes the government’s efforts are less than stellar: for instance, in 2011, the government sought to dissuade Uyghur women from wearing burqua-like black veiled-clothing, which they saw as radicalizing the population. This campaign was cited by some Uyghurs as what incited an allegedly suppressed protest in July 2011 and eventually led to a violent attack on a police station in Hotan later that month, where 18 Uyghurs wielding knives and homemade explosives killed two security guards before taking hostages. The attackers were eventually overpowered, and those who weren’t killed were captured and sentenced to death.

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.



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).



罢工 (labor strike / bàgōng) is a refusal to work by employees. It is a form of protest aimed at forcing an employer to resolve grievances or to accede to employee demands. 

Why it is blocked: Though striking itself is not technically illegal under Chinese law, the right to strike was removed from the Chinese constitution in 1982 (not that strikes were greatly tolerated before 1982). Therefore, unless a striker breaks other laws in conjunction with the work stoppage (which would probably be nearly unavoidable), he is technically free to do so without facing punishment.  Of course, since the laws do not protect strikes, work stoppages are obviously not encouraged, though there have been times where central authorities have sided with workers in efforts to pressure local officials and employers to resolve unrest.

According to statistical yearbooks, in 2009, there were 684,379 labor disputes, 320,000 of which were officially dealt with in the court system. Workers are also able to take their grievances to their local trade union—but it operates as a mediator and not necessarily on the worker’s behalf. Though there are no official figures for the number of strikes, it’s been estimated that there are roughly 30,000-40,000 each year. Strikes do take place and in recent years some have been well-publicized (for instance a series of strikes in late-2011) and even successful (for example, the strikes in factories which produced Japanese auto parts and at the electronics manufacturer Foxconn in summer 2010) and there have been experiments in southern China with legalizing strikes. However, work stoppages, particularly ones that attempt to involve more than one workplace are strongly and often violently suppressed with beatings by hired thugs, mass arrests, and prosecution of organizers. Domestic media are usually barred from reporting about strikes. (For a great at-a-glance look of strikes that have been reported in recent years, see the the excellent China Strikes crowdsourced map.)



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.



The top post on Weibo today is about friendship between China and Japan:

translation: Juanzi [1]: A few days ago a friend went on a business trip to Japan but had trouble leaving the country [2]. This morning he sent me a text [3] saying that last night he and a co-worker had been eating at a Japanese bar when it was uncovered that they were Chinese, after which they got a dish that had some words written on it. When I heard this, I was worried. But who would have thought it would be these words [4]. The bar owner said, “Thank you for being so willing to come to Japan, I hope there will be peace and friendship.” … I certainly was surprised. Patriotism: must we use xenophobia and hatred to express it?

[Larger image on Facebook… Any suggested edits to translation are welcome… I’ll be back to the regular weekly posts next Monday or Tuesday.]

(1) 涓子, name of blogger
(2) probably because of the cancellation of flights to and from China due to the protests and tension against Japan recently
(3) technically a WeChat message 
(4) The words on the dish say: “Thank you China.” 

UPDATE: All right! Now this is relevant for the blog! Not more than 10 mins after I posted this translation, the original Weibo post calling for friendship between China and Japan has been deleted from the site. It’s possible the author deleted it herself (maybe amongst the 30,000+ responses some were hateful?) or perhaps the censors stepped in? If so, it’s very sad that advocating for peace with your “enemy” can’t find a place on Weibo. UPDATE 2:  In a follow-up message, the author says she deleted it herself (see comments) due to threats and pressure of some sort. [我删了。我自己也吓一跳 = I deleted it. I was a little scared.]



抵制日货 (Boycott Japanese goods / dǐzhì Rìhuò) and 抵制家乐福 (Boycott Carrefourdǐzhì Jiālèfú) were two separate grassroots movements in recent years aimed at demonstrating Chinese anger at Japan and the French retailer Carrefour, respectively. Though each took place in different years (For Japan: 2005, 2010, and 2012, among others; Carrefour: 2008) and for different reasons (Japan: continuing resentment over atrocities and occupation of parts of China during Sino-Japanese War, the cleansing of textbooks in 2005, former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, disputes over islands in the South China Sea, among others; Carrefour: in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Olympic torch relay was interrupted several times across the world by human rights protesters, most egregiously in France when the Chinese Paralympic fencer Jin Jing was tackled in her wheelchair while carrying the torch, and Carrefour, whose supermarkets are common in Chinese cities and reportedly also donated to Free Tibet causes, served as a convenient scapegoat), both were inspired by patriotic verging on ultra-nationalist sentiment that played up China’s role as a country that had been victimized in the past but would no longer be bulled.

Why it is blocked: For each event, anger was expressed virtually as well as with demonstrations and a call to boycott goods. In each case, the central government appeared to support initial protests or made no strong efforts to tamp it down, but as demonstrations grew violent and out of control in each instance, the authorities reacted by reining in the outrage (most recently: ”Weibo calls for Japanese boycott to remain rational”; “China moves to quell anti-Japanese demonstrations”). The existence of a block of “Boycott Japanese goods” on Weibo seems to be a legacy of these previous demonstrations and is not new.



中联办 (the Liaison Officezhōngliánbàn) is short for the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, an organ of the mainland government tasked with “facilitating economic, cultural, educational, technology and sport exchanges and cooperation between Hong Kong and mainland China.” Formed in May 1947, before the handover it was named the Xinhua News Agency Hong Kong Branch.

Why it is blocked: The agency’s previous name belies its full mission: it’s not only China’s press office in Hong Kong, but it is charged with a more active propaganda and political administration role, including assisting with managing Taiwan-PRC relations and overseeing military forces in Hong Kong. The first post-handover director of the agency, Jiang Enzhu, declared that the Liaison Office would curtail its reach and promised political non-interference in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong residents remained highly skeptical, especially after Cao Erbao, head of research at the agency, wrote in a 2008 article that Hong Kong was and should be jointly governed by the local government along with the mainland one, a direct contradiction of the one-country, two-systems policy. Numerous protests have taken place in front of the Liaison Office in past years, and even the comings and goings of local politicians to the agency’s Hong Kong offices are closely watched. [Status - 11/11/11: blocked; 3/12/12: blocked]



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


封锁 (blockadefēngsuǒ) is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally.

Why it is blocked: As the recent Wukan “siege” showed, blockades of villages and rogue towns are unflattering to China’s domestic and international reputation. (China was also on the receiving end of an economic embargo from the U.S. against Communist nations during the Cold War from 1949-1970 under the Export Control Act of 1949.)



四君子 (The Four Gentleman / Sì Jūnzi) refers to four plants: the orchid, the bamboo, the chrysanthemum, and the plum blossom. The term compares them to Confucianist junzi, or “gentlemen”. They are most typically depicted in traditional ink and wash painting and they belong to the category of bird-and-flower painting in Chinese art.

Why it is blocked: Clearly, it refers to something sensitive that I am not familiar with. In lieu of an explanation, here’s a painting of one of the Four Gentlemen, a plum blossom:

Plum blossom from Wikipedia

Update: This in from Twitter user @abingor: “四君子 refers to the four arrested villagers during the Protests of Wukan.” A Tumblr user provides an alternative explanation: “for me it’s obvious why it’s blocked, because it refers to them: 刘晓波、周舵、高新和侯德健, who were four famous scholars and artists at that time. They appeared together on the square during the 89 protest, and stood on the students’ side. At that time they were called Si Jun Zi.” Now, I can remove the why? tag from this entry.



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