U.S.-based British comedian John Oliver’s name has become a sensitive word on Weibo following a particularly well–researched 20-minute segment roasting Xi Jinping’s policies on his weekly HBO show “Last Week Tonight” last Sunday. At Inkstone, Alan Wong describes his unsuccessful attempts to post “John Oliver” on Weibo, and recalls some of the sensitive Chinese political issues that the late night segment focused on:
On Wednesday morning, Inkstone’s attempts to post messages about the comedian or the show were blocked by the Chinese social media site, citing a violation of regulations.
This kind of censorship is unlikely to surprise anyone: not least Oliver, who poked fun in his latest show at censors’ efforts to suppress references to President Xi Jinping’s resemblance to Winnie the Pooh. [See prior CDT coverage.]
It’s unclear what Chinese censors found inappropriate. But in the Sunday episode, the host highlighted a selection of political discussions that had previously been censored:
- China’s removal in March of presidential term limits and how it cleared the way for Xi to stay in power indefinitely.
- The government’s crackdown on political dissent and organized worship.
- The house arrest of Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. [Source]
Independent tests by CDT to post “John Oliver,” “Last Week Tonight,” and the Chinese translation of the show’s name (上周今夜秀) also yielded the disclaimer citing relevant regulations.
For now. pic.twitter.com/O6x7y0Insa
— Sandra Severdia (@underbreath) June 21, 2018
Searches for the above English terms in quotation marks and for 上周今夜秀 did not return results, also yielding a disclaimer about relevant rules and regulations. Searches for the host’s name and show title without quotations did return results on the platform, but none of those results appeared to be any more recent than early June, and no mentions of the recent episode were found. Attempts to search for and post Chinese translations of the name John Oliver (约翰·奥利弗, and 约翰奥利弗) were successful.
At The Guardian, Lily Kuo reports further on the episode that won John Oliver’s name sensitive status on Weibo, noting that other popular Chinese social platforms didn’t appear to be censoring the name:
Oliver’s scathing parody of Xi on Sunday covered human rights abuses, “dystopian levels of surveillance and persecution” of Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang province, the continued detention of Liu Xia, wife of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who died last year in state custody, and online censorship, including memes comparing Xi’s figure with that of Winnie the Pooh.
“Clamping down on Winnie the Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength. It suggests a weird insecurity,” Oliver said.
[…] Clips of the show, uploaded by users, were still online on video platforms but his most recent segment on Xi was not on Weibo or other social media platforms. Oliver’s name did not appear to be censored on other platforms like Douban or Zhihu, a popular question and answer forum.
In his take down of Xi’s China, Oliver also highlighted the expansion of the social credit scoring system, the elimination of term limits made earlier this year, and China’s heavy economic influence around the world. [Source]
For those not surfing from a U.S. IP address, the full 20-minute segment from Last Week Tonight’s most recent episode may be viewable at DailyMotion. Read more about the topics mentioned by Oliver—including the social credit system, surveillance, internet censorship, state crackdowns on religions such as Christianity and Islam, the anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang, the death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and the continued detention of his widow Liu Xia, the recent constitutional amendment that removed term limits for the presidency, and the government’s short patience for civil society activism—via CDT.