China’s Internet censors are really outdoing themselves with the Southern Weekend scandal. Not only have they blocked searches for “Southern Weekend” on Sina Weibo and other microblogs, they’re making some attempts to block discussion within the Chinese diaspora.
Some writers at Tech in Asia conducted a little experiment today with WeChat (Weixin), a Chinese texting app developed by Tencent, and found trying to type Southern Weekend in Chinese resulted in this Orwellian message:
The message “南方周末” you sent contains restricted words. Please check it again.
Not easily defeated, they tried again.
We’ve tested it out going from users in China to Thailand (blocked), Thailand to China (blocked), and even Thailand to Singapore (blocked); the prohibited words are not sent at all. The name of the magazine can be sent in English.
Thoughts on why it’s not blocked in English?
In related matters, China Digital Times has a full rundown of search terms blocked on Sina Weibo thanks to Southern Weekend:
- south (南): nán
- place (方): fāng
- week (周): zhōu
- end (末): mò
January 7 onwards
- nf + zm
- read and understand China (读懂中国): Southern Weekly’s motto is “Here, read and understand China” (在这里，读懂中国)
- China dream (中国梦): The title of the original Southern Weekly editorial was “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” (中国梦宪政梦).
- constitutional government (宪政): Also translated as “constitutionalism.”
- censor (审查)
- propaganda department (宣传部)
- Central Propaganda [Department] (中宣)
- violate the constitution (违宪)
- dedication message (献词)
- message of greeting (贺词)
Nonetheless, South China Morning Post assures us that celebrities are finding their way to voice their opinions via social media:
[Former Google China chief Li Kaifu], a Taiwanese-born American, said on his microblog: “From now on, I will only talk about east, west and north, as well as Monday through to Friday” – omitting references to the south or the weekend. The newspaper’s Chinese name is literally translated as “Southern Weekend”.
Personally, I think “restricted words” sounds like a great title for a high school poem, or a linguistics dissertation.
UPDATE, 1/12, 2:09 pm: Tencent called the case a “glitch,” but Tech in Asia replies, “But there’s clear evidence (see the screenshot collage above) of very specific ‘sensitive’ phrases being blocked by the app – particularly the Chinese name of the outspoken magazine Southern Weekend.”
Now China’s WeChat App is Censoring Its Users Globally (Tech in Asia)