Trump, Self-Serving Representatives, and Criticism of Xi Among Censored Topics in Run-Up to China’s “Two Sessions”

The Two Sessions, the annual gatherings of China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress and advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, are often accompanied by the censorship of discussion of the goings-on in Beijing. Last year, censors nearly uniformly quashed online discussion of Xi Jinping’s unanimous reappointment to an unprecedented third five-year term as president. This year, thanks to a new tool from Citizen Lab that can be used to track search censorship across a number of Chinese digital platforms, CDT Chinese editors have been able to put together a list of the terms censored in the run-up to the Two Sessions.

To learn more about how these censorship rules were discovered, see the Citizen Lab report “Missing Links: A comparison of search censorship in China.” 

The first batch of terms highlighted by CDT Chinese editors was related to an essay published to the WeChat account of the writer Lin Gu. In an essay titled, “Representative Liang, Who Do You Represent?” Lin skewered a representative for Guangzhou’s local People’s Congress for proposing more government support for education—a potentially lucrative outcome for Liang, who made a fortune in the education industry. In her essay, Lin asked, “Who appointed you a representative? Who do you represent?” Citizen Lab’s tools found that searches for the combination of terms “People’s Congress” and “Representing Who?” were censored on both Baidu and Baidu Knows (Baidu Zhidao), a discussion forum: 

  • “People’s Congress + Representing who?”
  •  “Representing who? + People’s Congress” 

Also censored were a variety of terms related to Xi Jinping, always a high priority for China’s censors. While most of the censored terms were variants on the usual objects of censorship—claims that Xi’s leadership is a failure, for example, or references to Xi’s quasi-imperial rule over China—one term was rather unexpected. The combination of “Xi Jinping” and “The Emperor is Greatly Pleased” (龙颜大悦 lóngyándàyuè) was censored on Baidu. “The Emperor is Greatly Pleased” is a long-defunct grassroots web variety show that concerned itself mostly with entertainment news—until a March 2011 episode in which the show mocked representatives to the People’s Congress as being out of touch and corrupt. The pre-Xi show is evidently still sensitive: 

  • “Xi Jinping Rules China”
  •  “Xi Jinping + The Emperor is Greatly Pleased”
  • “Xi Jin + Guaranteed Failure” 
  • “Jinping + Guaranteed Failure”
  • “Freedom of Speech + Xi Jinping” 

Other targets of censorship included the former soccer star Hao Haidong, still China’s all-time leading international goalscorer. On June 3, 2020, Hao appeared in two videos on Guo Wengui’s Youtube channel announcing his intention to join with Guo and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon to create a new Chinese state. Soon afterward, a leaked censorship directive revealed that Hao was blacklisted on the Chinese internet, his name immediately becoming a “a first-level search engine sensitive word.” His name is evidently still sensitive: 

  • “Hao + National Football Team”
  • “June 4th Incident”
  • “June 4th ‘89

References to Wang Xiaohong, a long-term aide to Xi, as the latter’s “confidant” were also found to be banned on Weibo. Wang heads the powerful Ministry of Public Security

  • “Confidant + Wang Xiaohong” 

A final, perhaps surprising, censored term was “The Great Trump,” which refers not to Donald Trump, but to Xi Jinping. In early 2020, when the novel coronavirus was first spreading in Wuhan, netizens angry about the Chinese government’s handling of the virus but unable to directly discuss Xi Jinping’s leadership used then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s name as a stand-in for Xi Jinping. Censors have evidently noted the nickname, which remains banned on Weibo: 

  • “The Great Trump” 


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