Symbols, Slang, and Chinese Netizens

Melucci draws a connection between individual acts of resistance and symbols of resistance in popular culture and folklore, collectively calling them “‘deviant symptoms of conflict’ or ‘symbolic elaborations of latent conflict.'”  In this context, I’d like to introduce you all to a website I discovered recently, called Blocked on Weibo (http://blockedonweibo.tumblr.com/), an ongoing project by University of Pittsburgh graduate student Jason Ng, tracking words and phrases blocked by the Chinese Twitter-service, Weibo.  Some sexually explicity words and phrases are blocked because they conflict with Weibo’s content guidelines (Weibo generally blocks sexual terms, as well as weapons).  Some of the blocked phrases refer to specific individuals or events, like 彭丽媛 (Peng Liyuan), who is the wife of the current Chinese vice-president.  Her name is likely blocked to prevent “gossip” about her or her husband on the microblogging site. To me, the most interesting items are the netizen slang terms, and non-slang terms blocked to prevent political discussion.  The word for “persecution” (迫害) is blocked, perhaps to prevent discussion of religious, ethnic, and political persecution in China.  An interesting case is that of 无界网络, or Ultrasurf, a web circumvention tool.  Ng notes that searching “无界网络” will get you booted from the Weibo website for a few minutes.

Chinese netizen slang is a very interesting phenomenon.  Chinese is a language packed with homophones, as characters which are written differently and have different meanings can sometimes be pronounced the same, except with different intonation.  As a result, when a word or phrase is censored on the Chinese internet, it is sometimes possible to replace it with a different word or phrase made out of different, uncensored characters which are phonetically pronounced in the same way.  Some of the most famous of these in the West are “grass mud horse” (肏你妈 or cào nǐ mā, the phonetic equivalent of “fuck your mother”) and “river crab” (河蟹 or héxiè, a homophone of 和谐,” meaning “harmonious.” The “Harmonious Society” is a central pillar of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s political ideology. 河蟹 is a euphemism for censorship or being censored).

Netizen slang seems to fit in Melucci’s concept of “symbolic elaborations of latent conflict.”  As private corporations and the government move to restrict speech online, netizens engage in a public performance of resisting those measures.  Though the slang is useful, that is, it is used for communication, it is also overtly symbolic, and phrases like 肏你妈 have taken on extensive lives as symbols of netizens resistance, almost completely independent from their original meaning.

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One thought on “Symbols, Slang, and Chinese Netizens

  1. Pingback: Anti-CNN as Tactical Media? | Sun Huan

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