Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in Review: 10 Examples of Free Speech With Mainland Chinese Characteristics (Part 2)

6. Ferrari Crash

Google's cache of the deleted Global Times story on the
Ferrari crash.

At around 8 pm on March 18, 2012, the state-sponsored Global Times published an article on its web site entitled "Three Pulled From Ferrari That Crashed Into a Bridge In the Middle of the Night, One Died at the Scene" (法拉利深夜撞桥车内3人被甩出 1人当场死亡). That report said that at around 4 am that morning, a Ferrari crashed on Beijing's fourth ring road, killing one and injuring two.

The Global Times deleted the article on March 20, and the URL ( now points to an error page.

By the afternoon of March 19:
  • Sina Weibo was censoring searches for "Ferrari." (法拉利)
  • Searches for "Ferrari Crashes" (法拉利 车祸) on:
    • Baidu and Soso were returning results restricted to the strict white list;
    • Sogou and Youdao returned no results, only censorship notices;
On May 31, published an article entitled "The Secret Beijing March 18 Ferrari Crash: Ling Jihua's Son Killed Having High-Speed 'Car Sex'." (北京318法拉利神秘車禍:令計劃之子高速“車震”喪生) That article was originally available here - - but was subsequently deleted. According to the article:
The most recent information exposed on Internet forums is that there were three people in the car, and the male driver was the son of Ling Jihua, and he died at the scene. Two women were severely injured, and after being sent to the hospital one of them died. The two women were students at Minzu University. The reason for the accident: the driver was engaged in high-speed "car sex" while driving.
Between March 19 and June 3, Baidu began completely censoring searches for "Ferrari crashes." (法拉利 车祸).

On June 3, Soso was returning over 2 million (apparently) uncensored search results for the same query. Two days later, however, Soso was once again restricting search results for that query to its strict white list. At the same time it also began censoring searches for "Master Ling" (令公子).

On September 2, 2012, the Global Times reported:
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has appointed Ling Jihua as head of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, replacing Du Qinglin. 
Ling will no longer hold the post as director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee. Li Zhanshu has been appointed as the Office's director.
At that time, all major search engines in China were restricting search results for both "Ling Jihua" (令计划) and "Ling Gu" (令谷) to their strict white lists.

7. Beijing Floods

On July 23, 2012, the Global Times reported:
The heaviest rainstorms in 61 years hit the capital over the weekend, resulting in 37 deaths recorded as of 5 pm Sunday, authorities have announced. 
A total of 25 people drowned, six were killed by collapsing houses, five by electrocution, and one by lightning strike, the Beijing municipal government said on its Sina Weibo account. Over 1.9 million residents have been affected, officials say.
Within 48 hours, Sina Weibo began censoring all searches containing the term "death toll." (死亡人数)
Screenshots showing Sina Weibo began censoring searches for
"Beijing flood death toll" (北京暴雨死亡人数)
By July 27, Sina Weibo was also censoring searches for phrases such as "Beijing Deaths" and "Fangshan Deaths."

The same day, the Chinese government raised the official death toll to 77.

By midnight on July 27, Sina Weibo had stopped censoring searches relating to the flood's death toll.

As the one-week anniversary of the flooding approached, Sina Weibo began to implement censorship  related to memorials for the dead. On July 27, the "hot result" for a search on Sina Weibo for "Black Clothes White Flowers" (黑衣白花) was the following, posted at 4:30 pm that day:
Tomorrow afternoon two o'clock, black clothes white flowers, Guangqumen. (明天下午两点,黑衣白花,广渠门。)
At that time Sina Weibo was censoring search results "Guangqumen" (广渠门 - a district in Beijing).

Sina Weibo stopped censoring searches for "Guangqumen" shortly after 2 pm on July 28.

On July 28, Sina Weibo was still censoring searches for the characters "head seven" (头七), which refers to the Chinese tradition of mourning on the seventh day after someone's death.

On July 28 Sina Weibo was also censoring "Beijing Civil Affairs Office" (北京民政局) and "Donate your sister." (捐你妹) This censorship probably had something to do with users' generally negative reactions to the Office's posts saying things like "The Capital Airport Group made a 5,000,000 compassionate donation." (首都机场集团500万捐款献爱心).

Here are some comments that users left on the post - before the Office began blocking comments.
  • Its all forced. (都强制的)
  • I'm guessing it was stolen directly from employees' salaries. (估计又是直接打劫员工工资)
  • Let the employees donate. (让员工捐)
  • [Sigh] I lost my appetite when I read this. Donate your sister why don't you. ([打哈气]咧条消息看得我真没食欲。捐你妹妹还是可以的。)
  • Yet again forced to donate. (又被强捐啦)
On July 28, Sina Weibo was also censoring searches for "Southern Weekend" (南方周末), mostly likely because of posts by Weibo users claiming editors had removed several stories about the Beijing floods from the weekly newspaper's July 26 edition.

On August 4, the state-sponsored Economic Observer published an article entitled "The Flood's Missing." (暴雨失踪者) An excerpt:
Beijing's "July 21" downpour came out of nowhere, causing the scenic mountain village of Shidu in Fangshan to lose contact with the outside world and putting many tourists in life-threatening peril. After the flood waters receded, the Shidu city government announced "Under the correct leadership of the Fangshan district government, and through the united efforts and brave struggles of the entire village, not one single citizen or tourist died in the village, and disaster relief efforts have been victorious." The Shidu police station also said: "Faced with the Juman River overflowing its banks, a miracle was achieved in that there was not one single injury or fatality amongst the citizens and tourists in Shidu."  
In fact, the Fangshan government notices neglected to mention the situation with respect to missing people. In Shidu, it seems everyone knew about "the three people swept away in the flood at Pudu village." After a detailed investigation, this paper's reporters have come to understand that, at 8 pm on July 21, at the Pudu Water Park beside Bridge No. 11 in Shidu, Ma Hailong, Hou JIan, and Yang Han were swept away following failed rescue efforts, and that there has been no word from them for over ten days. On the afternoon of August 3, Yang Han's family told this paper via telephone that Yang Han's corpse had been found in Laishui county in Hebei, and that the family was on the way to Laishui.  
That article contradicted an article published on July 26 by the state-sponsored Beijing Daily entitled "Not a Single Citizen or Tourist Injured or Killed in Shidu" (十渡区域百姓游客无一伤亡).

By August 6, the Economic Observer article had been deleted from both the HTML and ePaper versions of the Economic Observer's web site (original URLs: and
Screenshots showing the Economic Observer article before and after
it was deleted.

8. Anti-Japan Protests in China

A young boy marching in front the Japanese Embassy
holds a sign saying "Declare War on Japan."

September 18, 2012, was the 81st anniversary of the Incident of 1931 (also referred to as the "Mukden Incident"), which preceded Japan's invasion of Northeast China. In the days surrounding the anniversary Chinese gathered in front of the Japanese embassy in Beijing to protest.

On September 14, 2012, the Global Times publish an op-ed asking: "Besides 'Boycotting Japanese Goods,' What Else Can We Do?" (除了“抵制日货”,我们还能做什么).

On September 15, 2012, the Global Times entitled "Do Not Be Hasty When Judging 'Boycott Japanese Goods'" (莫轻率对“抵制日货”做评价).

At some time between August 30 and September 15, Sina Weibo stopped censoring searches for "Boycott Japanese Goods" (抵制日货).
Screenshots showing Sina Weibo stopped censoring "boycott Japanese goods"
at about the same time state media was praising boycotting Japanese goods.
On September 16, 2012, the China Daily's front page headline read: "Stay Away." According to the article:
On Saturday, demonstrations were held in more than 20 major cities across China as public anger grew against Tokyo's most recent provocations in its illegal claims on the Diaoyu Islands, which have always been a part of China historically.  
. . . .
In Beijing, citizens gathered in front of the Japanese embassy to protest against Tokyo's decision earlier this week to "purchase" the islands. In Nanjing, thousands protested downtown, holding banners that declared "Diaoyu Islands belong to China" and "Boycott Japanese goods".
On September 15, a search for "Japanese Embassy" (日本大使馆) on Sina Weibo returned over 1 million results. The same search done the following day returned no results, just a censorship notice.
Screenshots showing Sina Weibo began censoring "Japanese Embassy" at
about the same time state media began criticizing protesters' actions.
At around 6:30 pm on September 16, 2012, a Sina Weibo user posted the following:
The Diaoyu Islands are Japan's, I want to tell all Chinese people, from ancient times the Diaoyu Islands were the sovereign territory of Japan, don't go around biting people like some rabid dog, Sina Weibo can delete my post and close my account, but I'll still keep saying it, the Diaoyu Islands are Japan's and I support Japan.
Less than 20 minutes later the post was deleted and the user posted the following:
Today I've been in a fight-to-the-death with Sina Weibo, when I'm posting something is it possible that Sina Weibo does not know that Hong Kong has freedom of expression, deleting my posts, I'm telling Sina Weibo that unless you shut down my account I'll continue posting, I'm not afraid of you, If you have the guts come and find me I'm in Hong Kong Tsim Sha Tsui, Chinese people.
On September 17, 2012, the state-sponsored Caixin Magazine published a report entitled "Closer Look: How a Protest in Beijing Stuck to the Script." An excerpt:
A nearby street was filled with police, most of them relaxed. When I photographed the protest, he smiled and said: "You can join the protest."
"Can I? Won't I be pulled out?" I asked.
"Since it is me who let you in, who dares pull you out!" he said.
"But I haven't applied for permission," I said.
"It is OK. The organizer has applied," he said.
A middle-aged policeman also encouraged me to join the parade.
"Can I shout 'Punish corruptions'?" I inquired.
"No, you can't!" the middle-aged officer said, suddenly seriously.
"Only slogans concerned with Diaoyu Islands are allowed," a young policeman chimed in.
Here are some of the slogans that the police allowed to be carried on signs:
Protesters outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing

  • "China is of one heart, bathe Tokyo in blood."
  • "Our hatred is irreconcilable / We beg the government to launch a war."
  • "Boycotting Japanese good begins with me. Anger without action is meaningless. There is no negotiating issues of sovereign territory, there is only war."
  • "Declare war on Japan."
  • "China is unanimous, Destroy little Japan."
  • "Cut off the heads of the Japanese devils with six cuts."
  • "Declare war on Japan, Blood debts paid must be paid in blood."
  • "Japanese assholes, get the fuck out of China."
  • "Bring down Japan even if it means the country's land is rendered barren."
  • "Take back the Diaoyu Islands, even if it means killing everyone in Japan."
  • "Slaughter all little Japanese, return my Diaoyu Islands."
  • "China should take action and kill the Japanese dogs."

On September 18, 2012, the Global Times published an article entitled "Protests Should Not Turn to the Dark Side." Some excerpts:
The past few days have seen a growing number of Chinese demonstrations protesting Japan's unilateral "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands, with a series of violent activities marring proceedings. Today marks the 81st anniversary of the September 18 Incident of 1931, which preceded Japan's invasion of Northeast China. It has been reported that a few Japanese factories in China have suspended their business temporarily due to safety considerations. Why have some Chinese demonstrators chosen violent means to show their "patriotism?" Will these violent protests really help resolve the Diaoyu Islands dispute? 
On September 18, Sina Weibo began censoring all searches containing either "anti-Japanese" (反日) or "demonstration" (示威).

Between September 17 and September 20, 2012, Sina Weibo also began censoring searches for "Oppose Japan" (抗日).

During the height of the protests (September 15-19) Sina Weibo was censoring searches for terms such as "Looting" (打砸抢), "Besiege" (围攻), and "Shenzhen" (深圳).

On September 18, Baidu's home page doodle showed an island with a PRC flag on it. Clicking on the doodle lead users to a page entitled "Diaoyu Islands, China's!" where users could plant virtual PRC flags on a Baidu map of the islands. Baidu's Japan and Taiwan home pages did not have any doodles. At least two other search engines - Jike and Youdao - put up similar home page links.
Baidu's doodle and the page it linked to.
On September 20, Baidu’s director of international communications offered this explanation:
The overwhelming majority of Baidu’s employees and users clearly feel very strongly on this topic, but our purpose was to encourage people to be rational in their expressions of patriotism, to renounce violence and other forms of extremism. Planting a digital flag to express your feelings on the matter of the Diaoyu Islands is a much better alternative to throwing rocks or smashing cars.

9. Anti "National Education" Protests in Hong Kong

A Sina Weibo post showing Hong Kong protests
(the post was subsequently deleted)

On July 26, the Global Times reported:
Hong Kong's education authority has come under criticism for organizing a tour of Mao Zedong's hometown of Shaoshan, Hunan Province, for the region's high school students with some commentators suggesting its part of a plan to indoctrinate local youth.
. . . .
The Hong Kong education authority was criticized for wasting public funds on "brainwashing national education activity," according to the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily.
On July 29, the People's Daily published an article entitled "Hong Kong Secretary of Education Responds to Suspicions Regarding National Education: If We Wanted to Brainwash It Would Be Very Difficult." (香港教育局长回应国民教育质疑:要洗脑很困难)

On July 29, Sina Weibo was censoring searches for "Brainwash" (洗脑).

On August 2, 2012, the Global Times published an article entitled "No Reason for Hongkongers to Fear National Education Course" reporting that "Tens of thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets on Sunday to protest the introduction of a national education course that is set to begin in local primary schools this September."

On August 30, members of a student activist group called Scholarism (學民思潮) began an occupation of the Hong Kong government headquarters calling for the government to retract its plans to introduce National Education.

On September 5, 2012, the Global Times published an article entitled "HK National Education Controversy Highly Politicized." Some excerpts:
Opposition has been vocal since a national education course was officially introduced in Hong Kong schools Monday, the first day of the new school year. Some students also joined protests and launched a hunger strike to exert pressure on the government.
. . . .
Pan-democrats, by slamming this "brainwashing," are all out to rattle the leadership of Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's new chief executive who took office in July. It's selfish to encourage parents and teachers to give up adapting to their national identity for the sake of these pan-democrats' own political benefit.  
On September 7, Tencent Weibo began censoring searches for "National Education." (国民教育)Around the same time Sina Weibo was censoring search results for "Government Headquarters" (政总), "National Education" (国民教育), and "Leung Chunying" (梁振英)
Screenshots showing Tencent Weibo began censoring "National Education"
At the same time, searches for "National Education" (国民教育) and "Scholarism" (学民思潮) on Baidu, Jike, Qihoo, Sogou, and Youdao returned no results, just censorship notices.
Screenshots taken on September 8 and 9 showing Baidu censoring
search results for "National Education" and "Scholarism"

10. 18th Party Congress

On October 24, Xinhua published a report entitled: "State Internet Information Office Convenes Deployment Meeting, Welcoming the Party's 18th Congress, Create a Surge in Online Propaganda" (国家互联网信息办召开会议部署 喜迎党的十八大 掀起网上宣传热潮). An excerpt:
Wang Chen, deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department and head of the Central Overseas Propaganda Office and the State Internet Information Office, spoke at the meeting, and called on Internet propaganda offices in every locale to spare no efforts in meticulous organization, do a good job of propagandizing online the Party's 18th Congress, create atmosphere for expression that will facilitate the victorious convening of the Party's 18th Congress, and create a mass upsurge of online propaganda.
. . . .
The meeting stressed that news websites and commercial websites must further strengthen their sense of responsibility, and utilize the critical ideological guidance provided by Deng Xiaoping Theory and the "Three Represents" to implement scientific development deeply, grasp correct guidance firmly, and insist upon unified and stable enthusiasm, . . . .
. . . .
会议强调,新闻网站和商业网站要进一步增强责任感使命感,以邓小平理论和“三个代表”重要思想为指导,深入贯彻落实科学发展观,牢牢把握正确导向,坚持团结稳定鼓劲,. . . .
According to the Xinhua report, the meeting was attended by representatives from agencies responsible for online content, the People's Daily, Xinhua, and other "Central news websites." (中央新闻网站).

On November 7, Xinhua announced that the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China would convene on November 8. The Congress concluded on November 15 with the announcement of a new Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) comprising seven members (down from the previous nine): Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), Zhang Dejiang (张德江), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Liu Yunshan (刘云山), Wang Qishan (王岐山), and Zhang Gaoli (张高丽).

Microblog Censorship

In the days leading up to the opening of the 18th Party Congress Sina Weibo stopped completely censoring terms like "18th Big Meeting" (十八大) and the names of current PBSC members like "Xi Jinping" (习近平).  Instead, restricted results verified state-controlled media sources.

At the same time, Sina began censoring terms that sounded similar to "18th Big Meeting" but that would be likely to point to unofficial posts, such as "18大," "撕八大," and "斯巴达."

Then, for several days Sina stopped providing a censorship notice for those terms it continued to censor, and instead claimed that it was unable to locate any results. Sina resumed displaying its censorship notice on November 9.

At almost exactly the same time Xinhua published the announcement of the new PBSC, Sina Weibo stopped censoring "Politburo Standing Committee" (中央政治局常委) .
Screenshot showing Sina Weibo stopped censoring
"Politburo Standing Committee" at the same time its members
were announced by Xinhua
For several weeks after the conclusion of the Congress, Sina Weibo administrators continued to gradually increase the amount of censorship following the initial relaxation. By November 27, searches for "Xi Jinping" were completely censored, while searches for "Li Keqiang" were returning no results from the previous 48 hours.

By December 14, 2012, Sina Weibo was imposing a seven day delay for searches for the names of all members of the PBSC, with the exception of Wen Jiabao, which it continued to completely censor.
Screenshots showing Sina Weibo implementing a seven day delay on search results for "Xi Jinping"
The new rule was not only being applied to leaders and their families. For example, a search for "Xu Zhiyong" (a civil rights lawyer) on November 27 returned results from as recently as November 25, the same search on December 18 did not return any results from the preceding seven days. The delayed results were not, however, restricted to verified government accounts.

As of December 26, Sina Weibo had stopped imposing a seven day delay for searches for the names of PBSC members, except for Wen Jiabao, which it continued to completely censor.
Screenshots showing Sina Weibo returning real time results for
"Hu Jintao" and "Xi Jinping"
Search Censorship

At some time between July and September, Baidu stopped censoring searches for many terms relating to the Congress, such as "18 Big" (十八大). It waited until October-November, however, to stop censoring searches for "nine becomes seven" (九变七).
Screenshots showing that Baidu stopped censoring "9 becomes 7" shortly
before the government announced the new PBSC would have seven members.
During the first week of November, Baidu increased its censorship of the names of several of the men widely speculated to become (and who all eventually became) members of the PBSC:  Zhang Dejiang (张德江), Li Yuanchao (李源潮), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Liu Yunshan (刘云山), Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), and Wang Qishan (王岐山).
Screenshots showing Baidu began censoring searches for "Zhang Dejiang"
Baidu did not impose this censorship for Wang Yang (汪洋), who was also speculated as possibly joining the PBSC, but who in the end was not chosen.

During the second week of November, Baidu relaxed its censorship of these names, and was returning search results from its broad white list.
Screenshots showing Baidu restricting search results for "Li Yuanchao" to  its
strict white list, then to its broad white list.
One month after the conclusion of the 18th Party Congress, it appeared that Baidu had settled on the following censorship policies for the names of senior government leaders:
  • Search results for queries containing only a member's name in Chinese are restricted to the strict white list.
  • Searches for members' names on Baidu's Tieba, Zhidao, and Wenku products return no results.
  • Search results for queries containing a member's name in Chinese plus a sensitive term are either restricted to the strict white list or censored completely.
  • New Search results for queries containing a member's name in Chinese plus a non-sensitive term are restricted to the broad white list.
Screenshots showing a Baidu search for "Egypt Hu Jintao" in 2011 only
returned results from the strict white list. The same search in December 2012
returned results from the broad white list.