Chinese internet users have just scored a rare win against censorship. On September 3, the swear word shǎbī 傻逼, politely translated as “dumbass,” was banned from Baidu’s messaging forum Tieba. In the aughts, a mythical creature like the grass-mud horse might have been conjured to stand in for this piece of profanity. This time around, netizens chose an existing homophone that forced the hand of state media, and thereby, of Baidu: sǎnbīng 伞兵, “paratrooper.”
To the state, this substitution was a verbal hostage situation. Xinhua News proclaimed “Paratroopers are the Best of the Best—We Must Not Sully Their Name!” and gave readers a crash course on the history of China’s airborne forces, from their first jump in 1950 to emergency responses after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 and this year’s flooding in Zhengzhou:
Recently, certain internet users have been using “paratrooper” as a “homophone” for a curse word. In reality, “paratrooper” stands for glory and courage!
Some say that paratroopers are born to be surrounded: Because they insert themselves directly behind enemy lines, they face far greater danger than ordinary soldiers.
“Paratroopers” are the best of the best. They deserve respect, not derision. [Chinese]
To save the reputation of China’s paratroopers—and, of course, its own skin—Baidu unblocked shabi, carrying out the “prisoner exchange” on September 6. In a declaration of victory, WeChat writer Qiu Kaimao paraphrased the line “Give me back my heart” from Teresa Teng’s triumphant breakup ballad, “What Do You Have to Say”: “You took my ‘paratrooper,’ give me back my ‘dumbass’”! Qiu’s post has since been blocked.