CHINA MEDIA: The Mad Scramble to Arrest a Key Keyword!

Opinionated Chinese Netizens have long blogged and slogged Chinese leaders for being corrupt. But last week’s sacking of Bo Xilai, a top Chinese Leader, ignited an explosion of blogging activity about official corruption that topped anything anyone has ever seen. At first, perhaps surprisingly, the Chinese government allowed the eruption to proceed apace. But on March 22, Beijing clamped down and initiated a raft of full-fledged Internet censorship measures for which the government is notorious.

The controversy concerned Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing, and his son Bo Guagua. The prodigal offspring had studied at two British private schools and was allegedly driving a red Ferrari that may recently have been in an accident. How Bo’s family was able to fund a very expensive education and a Ferrari (and so on) has been a torrid topic of delicious speculation among China’s bloggers.

Chinese online social networking websites like Weibo had been widely and openly discussing this scandal until the official crackdown kicked in. But that triggered not so much silence as a new kind of bizarre translation service:  suddenly telltale keywords disappeared from the internet — such obvious keywords as the names of the people in the scandal, the word “corruption” and of course – as no micro-blogger could resist! — “Ferrari”.

However, as clever Netizens do not like to be messed around with, especially if their political gossip is being interrupted, new words began to surface for every censorial crackdown. In Chinese, “bo” means thin, so Netizens started referring to the sacked official as “not thick.” And when Beijing caught on and blocked off “not thick,” other references to the scandal popped up in order to keep the discussion going.

The government can keep chasing these keywords from now until the leadership change is finalized, but the Chinese language can be played around with in millions of ways. Unless authorities completely shut down the Internet, clever Netizens will just continue the discussion on a new thread. They will use all kinds of clever keywords to refer to the scandal, even if the keywords seem completely unrelated. But this is a good thing, because the more unrelated a keyword seems, the slower the government catches on.

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