Irony, double meaning, coded messages… How do the Chinese bypass internet censorship?

Banana peels to criticize President Xi Jinping, “rice bowl” and “rabbit” emojis to talk about #MeToo… In China, the population shows imagination and many tricks to bypass censorship.

Cai Chongguo, writer in exile in Hong Kong: “We don’t write in Chinese [pour parler du président Xi Jinping] but we write XJP, everyone knows it’s him. It’s the same pronunciation as banana peel ‘xiang jiao pi’.”

It’s a real protest counterculture that’s been emerging on Chinese forums for 15 years, as laws restricting free expression online become increasingly strict. An Internet user who criticizes the regime risks having his site censored, his account blocked, his internet access cut off, or even jailed.

A generalized surveillance environment that drives internet users to innovate with puns, metaphors, double meanings, coded messages that have been massively used to criticize the regime’s zero-covid draconian policy since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wenjing Guo, an anthropologist: “Someone who has tested positive for Covid, we don’t use ‘positive’, for example we’ll use sheep because it’s the same pronunciation, Yáng. Some use a photo of a sheep, some use ‘I have an animal in the grass next to my house.’

#MeToo has been censored

They are now more than a billion internet users in China, a country where neither Facebook nor Twitter is allowed, but discussions are held on Wechat or Weibo. In 2019, even the Metoo hashtag was censored in China. To talk about it in forums, Internet users played homophony with English mí (rabbit) tù (rice).

To talk about it in forums, internet users played homophony with English mí (rice) and tù (rabbit). We must constantly find new words or phrases, reinvent the language to replace censored words either blocked by filters on forums or reported by pro-government netizens called “wumao” (50 cent party).

Wenjing Guo:They are called wumao because at the time people were said to be paid 50 cents per act of censorship.

Faced with this systematic censorship of any criticism of the regime, internet users respond with an image of an alpaca, which means “fuck your mother”.

Wenjing Guo:Since they cannot pronounce this censored word, which is offensive, they will choose another word. In Chinese, cào nǐ mā (肏你媽), I don’t know if it’s polite to say it here, but it’s insulting that person’s mother. To translate it, we will choose another ideogram that has the same pronunciation but is translated as grass, earth, and horse. Internet users found a picture of a very rare animal that does not actually exist in China, hence the alpaca to define this word.

18:00 newspaper

9 min

“May 35” to talk about Tian’anmen

If the news is censored, so is China’s recent history. For example, it is impossible to talk about “June 4” of 1989, the date of Tian’anmen massacre.

Cai Chongguo:It is usually censored on June 4th. We cannot leave June 4. Thus, we create another word like May 35.”

The main language in China is Mandarin, but internet users sometimes use Cantonese, a more familiar language spoken in the south and especially in Hong Kong, to avoid censorship.

Wenjing Guo:The Cantonese dialect uses many Chinese characters, classical Chinese, which are no longer used in modern Mandarin. It’s confusing because we’re going to use a different symbol to define the same thing. In the context of a sentence, we can read all the characters, we can understand all the individual characters, but we do not understand the meaning of this sentence.

To cover their tracks, some even mix Cantonese with the English transcription, like this cryptic “on9” that refers to the stupidity of some anti-Covid measures.

Wenjing Guo: “Ngong6 kiu1” means “stupid”. This Cantonese word for stupidity is used by Internet users to avoid censorship and censorship, “on” in English and 9 with a similar pronunciation. Thus, “ngong6 kiu1” phonetically translates to “on-gau”. looks like. “. But in Cantonese, we understand that it refers to actions that are considered stupid among Internet users because they were not happy with the zero-covid policy.

Government paranoia is such that the most neutral words can be censored without internet users realizing why. In 2010, dissident writer Liu Xiaobo was banned from flying to receive the Nobel Prize. At the ceremony, his empty chair became a symbol… causing the word “chair” to be censored on all search engines.

Question of the day

9 min

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *