The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online.
Urgent notice from the Beijing Cyberspace Administration, March 2: Due to lax supervision and the spread of illegal information, the “Zhihu” app is to be removed from app stores for seven days in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. Specifically, the suspension period begins at 15:00 today, and ends at 15:00 on March 9. (March 2) [Chinese]
The suspension of the popular Quora-like Q&A discussion platform’s app comes amid intense censorship surrounding a proposed constitutional amendment scrapping term limits for China’s presidency, and ahead of the start of the annual “Two Sessions” legislative and advisory meeting at which it is likely to be adopted. CDT Chinese editors highlighted one post censored by Zhihu, alluding to the prospect of greatly extended rule by Xi Jinping: “If the driver keeps going in spite of fatigue, without changing shifts, what should the passengers do?”
Sixth Tone reports that the app’s operation for existing users will not be affected, and that an unnamed Zhihu spokesperson had promised off the record that “adjustments” would be made “as soon as possible.” Citizen Lab’s Lotus Ruan wrote on Twitter that the suspension demonstrates typical “CCP logic: if we can’t handle a problem, we’ll handle those who dare ask around about the problem.” Quartz’s Nikhil Sonnad commented that “if Zhihu dies, not sure there will be anywhere left to have reasonable discussions online in China.” Censorship tracking group Great Fire reiterated its longstanding criticism of Apple’s compliance with Chinese demands, asking “does Apple provide ANY resistance when they receive removal requests?” The app has indeed been removed from Apple’s store, albeit somewhat belatedly, as well as from at least two major Android app stores.
CDT has tracked dozens of terms blocked from searches and/or posts on Weibo this week, including allusions to everything from China’s imperial and Republican history to classic Western dystopian literature, modern Chinese TV dramas, Disney cartoons, and emigration. More recently detected search blocks include Xi Xi P (习习P) and Xi Xi Fart (or “Nonsense”) (习习屁), both referring to the Chinese Communist Party’s English initials and Xi’s striking assertion of authority. The phrase Steamed Bun betrays the Constitution (包子露宪), in which “Steamed Bun” is an irreverent nickname for Xi and “betrays the constitution” is a pun on “leaks stuffing,” is blocked from posts. Some users have reported that even Xi Jinping (习近平) is blocked as a search term, a result that CDT has sometimes but not consistently been able to replicate.
Even without aggravating factors like abolition of term limits, major political meetings like the Two Sessions are typically the focus of heightened censorship. In 2016, CDT published a set of 21 rules for media from the Party’s Central Propaganda Department that provide some insight into the sensitivities surrounding such gatherings.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.