Sensitive Words: Xi to Ascend His Throne (Updated)
Sensitive Words highlights keywords that are blocked from Sina Weibo search results. CDT independently tests the keywords before posting them, but some searches later become accessible again. We welcome readers to contribute to this project so that we can include the most up-to-date information. Use the form at the bottom of this post to help us crowd source sensitive words. You can also browse our archive of sensitive words.
Chinese state media announced on Sunday a list of proposed amendments to China’s constitution, which are expected to be adopted next month at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. Among the 21 proposed amendments, the one with perhaps the deepest potential impact on the future of Chinese politics and society deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would eradicate the current limit of PRC presidents and vice-presidents to two five-year terms. This would effectively set President Xi Jinping up to maintain his seat as president indefinitely. Erosion of the succession rules and conventions introduced by Deng Xiaoping to prevent the chaos that followed Mao Zedong’s consolidation of personal power has long been anticipated, and speculation along this line deepened last autumn when Xi failed to introduce a likely successor at the 19th Party Congress.
Following state media’s announcement, censorship authorities began work to limit online discussion. CDT Chinese editors found the following terms blocked from being posted on Weibo:
- The Emperor’s Dream (皇帝梦) — The title of a 1947 animated puppet film.
- Disney (迪士尼) — See also “Winnie the Pooh,” below.
- roll up + sleeves (撸起+袖子) — Phrase from Xi Jinping’s New Year 2017 public greeting.
- Chinese Emperor stock (华帝股份) — Following the news of the proposed amendment, speculators rushed on stocks for companies containing the word “emperor” in their names. Vatti Corp, whose Chinese name translates to “Chinese Emperor” (华帝) experienced an initial surge, but leveled off by the time markets closed yesterday.
- oppose Qing, restore Ming (反清复明) — Rallying slogan of anti-Qing Dynasty activists.
- personality cult (个人崇拜) — Read more about the image-crafting campaign that has been steadily cultivated by state media over Xi’s first term.
- the wheel of history (历史的车轮)
- universal celebration (普天同庆)
- Dream of Returning to the Great Qing (梦回大清) — Title of a 2006 book by Jin Zi.
- change the law (变法)
- Brave New World (美丽新世界) — See also “1984,” below.
- Big River, Big Sea 1949 (大江大海1949) — The title of a collection of short stories about the Chinese Civil War published in 2009 by Taiwanese author Lung Ying-tai.
We will continue to update this list as new blocked post and search terms are discovered.]
- my emperor (吾皇)
- long live (万岁) — Literally “ten thousand years”
- ascend the throne (登基)
- to board a plane (登机) — Homophonous with 登基, “to ascend the throne.”
- proclaim oneself emperor (称帝)
- urge a power figure to formally seize the throne (劝进)
- chairman + for life system (主席+终身制)
- Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) — Influential warlord during the late Qing Dynasty, Yuan became the first formal president of the newly established Republic of China in 1912. In 1915, he briefly re-established China as a Confucian monarchy.
- Hongxian (洪憲) — Reign title of the short-lived, re-established monarchy led by Yuan Shikai, who declared himself the Hongxian Emperor. After much popular disapproval and rebellion, Yuan formally abandoned the empire after 83 days as emperor.
- reign title (年号)
- recover one’s authority (复辟)
- Hundred Days’ Reform (戊戌变法) — A failed Qing Dynasty reform movement by the Guangxu Emperor, quashed by a coup carried out by supporters of the Empress Dowager Cixi.
- 35th year of a 60 year cycle; abbreviation for Hundred Days Reform (戊戌)
- Another 500 Years for Heaven (向天再借五百年) — Theme song for the CCTV series Kangxi Dynasty (康熙王朝), often used by netizens to mock leaders who grasp for power, particularly the line “I really want to live another 500 years” (我真的还想再活五百年).
- I’m willing to be a vegetarian for the rest of my life (信女愿一生吃素) — Allusion to a meme inspired by the popular historical drama Empresses in the Palace (甄嬛传). A screenshot of this line, being said by an empress as she makes the Buddhist pledge for lifelong vegetarianism in return for the imminent death of the emperor, has been shared online.
- Animal Farm (动物庄园)
- N — While the letter “N” was temporarily blocked from being posted, as of 14:27 PST on February 26, it was no longer banned. At Language Log, Victor Mair speculates that this term was blocked “probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2.”
- for life system (终身制)
- emigrate (移民) — Following the news, Baidu searches for the word reportedly saw a massive spike.
- Xi JinP (习近P)
- disagree (不同意)
- incapable ruler (昏君)
- Zhang Xun (张勋) — A Qing loyalist and supporter of Yuan Shikai who in 1917 attempted to restore the abdicated Qing Emperor Puyi.
- take the yellow gown (黄袍加身)
- Yuan Big Head (袁大头) — A silver dollar bearing Yuan Shikai’s face that became the staple Chinese currency in the early half of the 20th century.
- Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinping since as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China. Weibo users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”
Well, at least we can look look forward to many more years of subversive Winnie the Pooh memes. Here's a retrospective from 2013 to this week: pic.twitter.com/pqgW02gTqe
— Megha Rajagopalan (@meghara) February 26, 2018
CDT Chinese editors found the following terms to be blocked from searches on Weibo. Many of the blocked search terms are also in the above list of banned post keywords:
- Xi Zedong (习泽东)
- shameless (不要脸)
- go against the tide (倒行逆施)
- drive backwards (倒车)
- I oppose (我反对)
- long live the emperor (吾皇万岁)
- throughout the ages (千秋万代)
- rule the world (一统江湖) — The line “throughout the ages, unify and rule the world” (千秋万代, 一统江湖) appears in Jin Yong’s martial arts novels, notably in “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” (笑傲江湖), a story that has been widely adapted into television series and films. It is often used in adaptations of Jin’s stories as a slogan chanted by followers to show their loyalty to a cult-like leader.
- take the yellow gown (黄袍加身)
- incapable ruler (昏君)
- ascend the throne (登基)
- named emperor (称帝)
- lifelong (终身)
- reign title (年号)
- recover one’s authority (复辟)
- first year of an emperor’s reign (元年)
- urge a power figure to formally seize the thrown (劝进)
- fengchan (封禅) — Ceremony used to ensure dynastic fortune in a new era.
- Zhang Xun (张勋)
- Cai E (蔡锷) — Late Qing Dynasty warlord who established the National Protection Army to challenge Yuan Shikai’s proclamation of the Hongxian Dynasty.
- Yuan Shikai (袁世凯)
- Yuan Xiancheng (袁项城) — Moniker for Yuan Shikai, who hailed from Xiangcheng County, Henan.
- Hongxian (洪憲)
- Yuan Big Head (袁大头)
- crooked-neck tree (歪脖子树) — The tree which the Chongzhen Emperor is believed to have hanged himself from.
- immortality (长生不老)
- 500 years (五百年）
- great men sent from heaven (天降伟人)
- slavery (奴隶制)
- thousands of years (千秋万载)
Contact emailed me to say his Wechat account was permanently disabled because he "commented on the event yesterday". Wonder how many others face the same problem.
— Tom Hancock🌊 (@hancocktom) February 26, 2018
At the Hong Kong Free Press, Catherine Lai notes that comments were disabled on state media Weibo posts about the proposed amendments, and translates a censored comment preserved at FreeWeibo:
On Sina Weibo, one of the country’s largest social networking sites, comment sections were disabled below articles posted by state media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV and Chinanews. Only comments selected by the People’s Daily account could be viewed below its article on the constitution reforms.
The suggested changes triggered posts comparing the president to Yuan Shikai, who became the first president of the newly-formed Republic of China in 1912 and is known for attempting to declare himself emperor.
[…] The top search terms on FreeWeibo, a site that preserves censored Weibo posts, on Monday morning included “ascend the throne,” “constitutional amendment,” “Winnie,” and “Yuan Shikai.”
“Last night I had a dream that we had returned to the republic, and Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor,” one censored post said. [Source]
The BBC translates a few additional comments archived by FreeWeibo:
- “It took over 100 years to overthrow imperialism, and 40 years of reform and opening up, we cannot return to this type of system.” – User ‘Jianyuan Shunshui‘
- “One of the reasons why a tenure limit is so valuable and adopted by most countries is that we need fresh blood to maintain the balance of different peoples’ opinions.” – ‘Renzituo 2hao‘ [Source]
At What’s on Weibo, Manya Koetse translates early WeChat and Weibo comments, noting one audacious netizen’s continued attempt to make their opinion public:
The news caused consternation on Weibo and in WeChat circles, where it was received with much apprehension; some called the idea of Xi’s potential indefinite rule “scary.” “Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept,” a person on Weibo said. Others mentioned the North Korean regime and Napoleon in discussions on the constitutional change.
[…] “Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept,” a person on Weibo said. Others mentioned the North Korean regime and Napoleon in discussions on the constitutional change.
“I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again,” one micro-blogger wrote: “I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution.”
[…] By Sunday evening around 22:00 (Beijing time), various terms relating to the proposed amendment change, such as “two-term limit” or “continued rule” had become non-searchable on Weibo. [Source]
Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina report on widespread opposition to the announced amendment on social media, and round-up state media’s claim of a generally positive public reaction to the news:
China’s plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely has sparked social media opposition, drawing comparisons to North Korea’s ruling dynasty and prompting a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist to accuse it of creating a dictator.
[…] “Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote one Weibo user, where the Kim dynasty has ruled since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded North Korea in 1948 and his family has ruled it ever since.
”We’re following the example of our neighbour,’ wrote another user.
[…] The party’s official People’s Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments, quoting a variety of people proffering support.
“The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed,” it wrote. […] [Source]
Covering censors reactions to the social media outcry, Financial Times’ Yuan Yang quotes CDT founder Xiao Qiang on the sensitive words related to the proposed amendment: “Censored terms are the best evidence for what people are talking a lot about. […] The banned keywords are precisely expressions that are ringing true, as public concerns rise over Xi Jinping’s authoritarian tendencies putting China back politically at least 30 years.”
At The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Stategist blog, Fergus Ryan examines the massive list of banned terms in the context of Beijing’s accumulated economic and growing international clout, warning of the potential global implications of China’s official sensitivities:
[The ridiculously long list of banned terms related to the amendment] would be funny if it weren’t so serious. Behind the gallows humour is growing despair. Those Chinese internet users looking for ways to emigrate surely know in their bones what Jerome Cohen, a Chinese legal expert and New York University professor, wrote in a blog post yesterday: ‘The Chinese Communist Party’s proposed abolition of China’s presidential term limit means that it has forgotten one of the main lessons of Mao’s long despotism. [The two-term limit’s] abolition signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression.’ He goes on: ‘It will enable [Xi] to move more boldly and increases the risk of his acting arbitrarily and perhaps mistakenly in international relations.’
Aside from the geopolitical risks, it pays to consider this censorship spree as an object lesson in how arbitrary the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictions on free speech can be, and how readily the party can overreach.
Readers may well shrug their shoulders and ask what this has to do with them. So let’s be clear: China’s censorship apparatus is no longer just a boutique concern of China-watchers; it affects all of us.
[…] To what extent are our own companies, politicians, journalists and academics already self-censoring for fear of offending Xi’s China? [Source]
*Editor’s note: This post has been edited to make minor corrections to the translations.