CHINA’s censors have gone into overdrive to silence its citizen resisting the Communist party’s plan to abolish the presidential two-term limits for Chinese President Xin Jinping.
They are even using the phrase “I disagree” on social media.
China’s system of online curbs operated through government departments as well as internet companies’ self-censorship blocked dozens of new terms on social media to silence criticism of a proposal that many fear will allow President Xi Jinping to effectively become a dictator for life.
On Monday, phrases including “I disagree”, “migration” and “boarding a plane” were blocked from posts by regular users of Weibo, China’s top microblogging site, yielding the error: “Sorry, the content violates the relevant laws and regulations or Weibo’s terms of service.”
The phrase “boarding a plane” is a homophone for “ascending the throne” in Chinese.
Other terms censored on Weibo include “life-long rule”, “long live the emperor” and the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Animal Farm.
“Censored terms are the best evidence for what people are talking a lot about,” said Xiao Qiang, founder of censorship-watching organization China Digital Times, which is based in California.
“The banned keywords are precisely expressions that are ringing true, as public concerns rise over Xi Jinping's authoritarian tendencies putting China back politically at least 30 years,” Mr. Xiao added.
China’s search engine giant Baidu, which pushes news notifications to smartphone users, was also affected.
An employee of Baidu’s news unit who wished to remain anonymous said it, along with at least 13 other internet news companies, had received edicts from authorities to prioritize articles supportive of the proposed constitutional change.
Such articles had to be placed in the top slot of the landing page of the news apps.
Chinese netizens shared more oblique memes to sidestep censors, such as a cartoon featuring Winnie the Pooh the rotund bear who has drawn comparisons with Mr. Xi hugging a pot of honey with the caption: “Find the thing you love and stick with it.” Condom manufacturer Durex issued two statements on its official Weibo account asking readers to “clearly distinguish between what was real and fake” after netizens shared its old advert sporting the slogan: “Doing it twice is not enough”.
Some Chinese netizens tried to vote with their feet.
Web searches for “migration” rose four hours after the term limit proposals were announced.
The Baidu Index score for the term, which measures the popularity of searches on the search engine, shot up from 30 to more than 4,200.
Searches for the term on Baidu Index were blocked on Monday.
Other people drew historical parallels.
Some referred to Yuan Shikai, a general who amended the constitution to make himself “emperor for life” during the early days of the Chinese republic.
Others spoke of Zhang Xun, a contemporary of Yuan who tried to restore the Qing emperor.
Both those names were banned from Weibo, as well as from Weibo searches and Baidu Index searches, as of Monday morning.
“Internet censorship will aim to manage the narrative that this is reform and not a fall back to one-man rule,” said Michael Davis, a senior fellow at the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at Hong Kong University.
“Many Chinese people, with some collective memory of what one-man rule was like under Mao [Zedong], might justifiably be skeptical,” he added.