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The words China doesn’t want to hear

The Washington Post has published a list of 236 keywords considered sensitive by Chinese censors. 18 of these words are obscenities – the rest are words or phrases related to politically sensitive ideas or topics in China.

This list is apparently a list used by a Chinese weblogging service to filter content. These words can been posted to a Chinese weblog, but the post will likely be removed shortly afterwards. In some cases, the IP address which posted this term will be blocked from other future posts. In other cases, the post will be allowed to remain, but the sensitive word will be replaced with asterisks. These results are consistent with findings in Rebecca MacKinnon’s research that suggest that each blogging company is using a different mechanism to censor blog posts, but working from a common list of sensitive terms.

A quick tour through the terms is an amazing insight into my ignorance of China. I know who Li Hongzhi is and why his name is sensitive to censors (he’s the founder of Falun Gong) and why posts about Taishi Village would be blocked… but I have no idea why “Hui Village”, “Fuzhou pig case” or “Mascot” are blocked. I suspect working my way through this list with a Chinese political expert would be an amazing lesson in contemporary Chinese history.

I’m interested to see that some of the results we saw in Open Net Initiative experiments with Google.cn are echoed by this list of keywords. We discovered that searches for “Taiwan Independence” and “Mongolian Independence” didn’t trigger unusual filtering by Google.cn, while searches for “Xinjiang independence” or “Tibet Independence” did. The Washington Post reports that the first two phrases aren’t on this list, while the second two are. This suggests that Google may be using a similar list to the list the Washington Post has obtained. If I spoke Chinese and had a few hours to kill, I’d be frenetically checking these terms against Google.cn to see whether they triggered the “search Chinese-hosted sites only” behavior we saw with the most sensitive terms we tested.

Thanks to Roland Soong’s fantastic EastSouthWestNorth blog for the link to this article. He tells us that his site is not blocked by Google or Chinese weblogging tools, though a more popular forum with the same name is blocked.

2 thoughts on “The words China doesn’t want to hear”

  1. Pingback: Looking at Google in China » SEO by the SEA

  2. Very good point: checking what the communist party does not want people to know is probably the most accurate history lesson.

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