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Chinese Internet Users Have Some Ingenious Ways Of Getting Around Coronavirus Censorship

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.Chinese citizens angry at their government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak have come up with some ingenious ways to express their outrage and circumvent the extreme censorship measures imposed by Beijing. In a bid to control the narrative, Beijing authorities have censored sensitive…

Chinese Internet Users Have Some Ingenious Ways Of Getting Around Coronavirus Censorship

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Chinese citizens angry at their government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak have come up with some ingenious ways to express their outrage and circumvent the extreme censorship measures imposed by Beijing.

In a bid to control the narrative, Beijing authorities have censored sensitive topics, silenced WeChat accounts, tracked down those who are sharing criticism of the government, and disappeared citizen journalists.

But all those efforts still haven’t silenced people online, and angry citizens are now relying on coded words and phrases to express their dissatisfaction, according to research from Amnesty International, exclusively shared with VICE News.

The research — by Amnesty’s Chinese editor, who’s using a pseudonym for fear of retribution — shows that the most common example is “zf” which is the abbreviation for the Chinese word “government. To refer to the police, the letters “jc” are used, while “guobao” (meaning “national treasure”) or panda images are used to represent the domestic security bureau. Citizens talking about the Communist Party’s Publicity Department use “Ministry of Truth” from the George Orwell novel “1984,” instead.

One of the ways Beijing has sought to stem the flow of information out of China is by cracking down on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) as a way of circumventing its censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. So discussing this technology online has also become taboo.

Instead, citizens have been talking about how to use the technology by referring to “Vietnamese pho noodles” or “ladders.”

China’s embattled president Xi Jinping is among the most censored topics on Chinese social media. A Citizen Lab report this week showed that WeChat ramped up censorship efforts in recent weeks by adding a number of Xi-related words and phrases to its blacklist.

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In an attempt to get around these restrictions, Chinese citizens have begun referring to their president as a “narrow neck bottle” because the Chinese pronunciation of the phrase is similar to that of “Xi Jinping.”

But despite the obscure nature of this reference, China’s censors managed to pick it up when they removed a question posting on Zhihu (China’s version of Quora) asking “how to wash a narrow neck bottle?”

READ: A Chinese doctor injected herself with an untested coronavirus vaccine

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