Internet Users Invent Ways to Outwit Beijing’s Censors

The Wall Street Journal reports on the clever ways Chinese netizens get around Internet censorship:

But as fast as the government blocks words, phrases, websites and servers, Chinese Internet users figure out how to share information and opinions in ways unthinkable before the Internet took off in the country.

To confound Beijing’s bowdlerizers, users have been known to post images of text rather than text itself, to jumble Chinese characters so they appear vertically, or to substitute sensitive terms with similar-sounding characters.

Soon after Mr. Ai’s name was blocked, for example, supporters began sending messages referring to him using the Chinese characters for “love the future,” pronounced ai weilai in Mandarin—until that, too, was blocked. Since then, people have been using the Roman letters AVV or the Chinese characters for “fatty” as code for the portly artist. Mr. Ai was detained April 3 by Beijing authorities as he tried to leave for Hong Kong, and is under investigation for “economic crimes.”

When Chinese censors blocked the name of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, during the height of that country’s turmoil earlier this year, users substituted different characters for his name, too.

The censors’ dilemma was highlighted in February when online appeals for Jasmine Revolution protests in China suggested people refer to them using the code lianghui, or “the two meetings.” Lianghui is the term given to the simultaneous meetings of China’s legislature and its advisory body in March, so censors would have had to block all discussion of those meetings or wade through reams of official material online to weed out the protest appeals.

For a glossary of almost 200 such terms created by netizens, see CDT’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon.

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