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Why China banned a ton of words

It’s all about President Xi Jinping’s power grab.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (Getty)
Getty Images

In a move that shows how quickly China is moving towards authoritarianism, the country’s censors have now started banning the very language that people use to express dissent.

Just days after the Chinese Communist Party announced that presidential term limits could be abolished, opening the door for President Xi Jinping to continue his rule indefinitely, Chinese government censors issued an extensive list of newly banned words on the popular microblogging site Weibo.

The terms “my emperor” and “lifelong control” were banned from use, along with references to George Orwell’s dystopian novels Animal Farm and 1984, which describe worlds where authoritarian leaders strictly control the populations under them.

One of the more interesting choices was the phrase “to board a plane”; the China Digital Times, who published the full list, said that it was a homophone for the Chinese term “to ascend the throne.”

And in perhaps the most blatant example of curbing free speech, the word “disagree” is now illegal to post on Weibo.

Censors blocked both social media posts and searches

Social media users began to criticize the term limit announcement shortly after it was made, but posts that were critical of the proposed amendment were quickly deleted by Chinese censors and word bans were put into place.

When users attempted to publish banned terms over Weibo, a message said: “Sorry, the content violates the relevant laws and regulations or Weibo’s terms of service.”

The condom manufacturer Durex even found itself in the political censorship battle after a past advertisement was circulated with the phrase “doing it twice is not enough,” referencing the possibility of Xi continuing to rule after he serves his two presidential terms.

Internet searches for similar terms were blocked by censors along with social media posts. Searches for the terms “immortality,” “incapable ruler,” and “I oppose” were all blocked from the microblogging site.

There was also a dramatic increase in web searches for the term “migration” a few hours after the proposed amendment was announced, which lead to it being banned from searches.

Chinese censorship is not something new, not even for the Xi presidency. The government usually allows for there to be some form of dissent expressed; however, it will step in if there is a possibility the dissent and the threat of protests gains momentum among the populace.

The latest round of censorship may be an attempt to keep any negative opinions of the proposed ammendment from spreading before the March vote.

“Internet censorship will aim to manage the narrative that this is reform and not a fallback to one-man rule,“ Michael Davis, a senior fellow at Hong Kong University, told the Financial Times. “Many Chinese people, with some collective memory or what one-man rule was like under Mao [Zedong], might justifiably be sceptical.”