Speak the Unspeakable

Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain people find objectionable or dangerous. Censors attempt to enforce their ideas of what is true and suitable, or obnoxious and disagreeable, by the use of the government's power. Censors exert pressure on public institutions like libraries to censor and block access to information they deem offensive >or harmful so that no one else can read, watch, or consider it and develop their own opinions. The censor seeks to prejudge all materials.

It is no exaggeration to say that Chinese social media has the most stringent censorship standards. The Chinese government only allows the use of social media from China. As a result, we are locked in a never-ending battle between free speech and censorship with Chinese goverment censors. The Chinese government does not tolerate criticism of any of officials, even if they have committed unforgivable crimes. It is absurd that, since the word “study” and President’s surname share the same characters, such a harmless and normal word will also be blocked in various social scenario. Then, Chinese social media have developed a special culture because of this overreaction censorship.

During that endless battle, Chinese social media users found multiple ways to express their own feelings and thoughts to get past the censors and keep the conversation going. The Chinese language is complex because it has been evolving literally for thousands of years while maintaining its cultural integrity. And thanks to the beauty of the language, Chinese users find creative measures, such as misspelling, emoji, image reversal, and metaphor keep their freedom of speech. The hashtag “#MeToo”, was used to discuss sexual harassment in However, it was blocked on social media in China. The Chinese users utilized a special designed new hashtag to show their support. They used the characters for rice (米, pronounced “mí”) and bunny (兔, pronounced “tù”). They even used emoji (#🍚🐰) to represent the phrase because the emoji cannot be recognized by text. This particular approach to internet speaks substituting words that sound like or are spelled like others has been an essential part of being online in China for decades, allowing netizens to use the humor, cleverness, and sarcasm of spoken Mandarin to dodge censorship. All these attempts shows people’s effort by figuring out how content detection technology works, and “translating” a text into formats unreadable by the censor AI.

Despite we can see it as an interesting visual culture developed on social media in China, the situation is still sad and deplorable. Chinese as a long-established and meaningful language but cannot be expressed in its original way. Especially in light of the recent protests in China, where censorship standards are at their peak. All relevant text, emoticons, and images are simply deleted. they chose not to use a single word but holding a white paper when protesting, which is even more pathetic.