Sat, Nov 03, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Commentators try to outwit censors before CCP summit

AFP, BEIJING

Author Jin Song, 35, is relishing the challenge of beating China’s army of censors and posting comments online about the country’s impending leadership change, the first in the social-media era.

Referring by name to the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congress, set to begin on Thursday next week, can be difficult. One of Jin’s posts on the subject was deleted and he received a message saying it had been removed by “system managers.”

The trick is to find similar-sounding words in Mandarin when writing on the heavily policed, but hugely popular, Chinese microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo — a microblog akin to Twitter, which is banned along with Facebook and YouTube.

Substituting homophones for political catchwords is second nature to Chinese netizens, who poked fun at Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) call for social “harmony” by posting about “river crabs,” a term that sounds similar to harmony in Mandarin.

“If you want to post about top leaders or important government organizations, you need to write the characters differently,” Jin said. “I think of it as being like a game.”

In organizing their secretive and highly choreographed power handover, China’s communist leaders are for the first time having to contend with social networks that provide a platform for censorship-dodging debate and gossip.

The country’s microblogs have proved hard to keep in check.

However, anxious to protect the party’s image and senior leaders, officials have pressured companies behind the Web sites to hire armies of professional censors, sometimes known as “secretaries” in Chinese.

Staying ahead of them is the key for those wanting to discuss events starting next week at the CCP congress.

However, if any of the 368 million weibo users searches for the most commonly used name for the meeting, “18 big,” they are met with a blunt message: “Due to relevant laws, policies and regulations, the results of your search are not displayed.”

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