Chinese citizens have been using microblogging sites to get around government censorship, and the Bo Xilai and Chen Guangcheng affairs have increased the frequency of covert, critical conversation. Users evade the authorities by discussing politics in code, playing with homonyms and puns. Wen Jiabao, for instance, has been dubbed ‘Teletubby”; ‘Tomato” is often associated with Bo Xilai.But as the New York Times reports, even these words can now get users banned. Sina Weibo, one of the largest microblogging sites in China, has announced new rules designed to crack down further on the expression of political opinions. According to the Times, users will start with a “bank” of 80 points:
Points can be deducted for online comments that are judged to be offensive. When a blogger reaches zero, the service stated, a user’s account will be canceled. Users who suffer lesser penalties can restore their 80 points by avoiding violations for two months.Deductions will cover a wide range of sins, including spreading rumors, calling for protests, promoting cults or superstitions and impugning China’s honor, the service stated.Most notably, the contracts also will punish time-honored tactics that bloggers have used to avoid censorship, like disguising comments on censored topics by using homonyms (where two different Chinese characters have nearly identical sounds), puns and other dodges.
While microblogging sites in the United States like Twitter have grown increasingly popular, they are not as widely used as their Chinese counterparts. This partly reflects the lack of outlets for dissent in China, but it’s also a function of language: 140 Chinese characters can convey more information than 140 English letters. In English, a tweet is a sentence; in Chinese, a tweet is a blog post. And while the new regulations might prove effective in the short term, the authorities may eventually wind up looking like clumsy Elmer Fudds hunting the clever and elusive Bugs Bunny.