Words China Won't Let You Use on the Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

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The annual cat-and-mouse game of government censorship that marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre gets more sophisticated every year. As Chinese web users on search engines like Baidu or social media sites like Sina Weibo find more sneaky ways of searching for or discussing the 23rd anniversary of the anti-democracy crackdown, the Chinese government ramps up its effort to ban every possible term that may correlate. As a result, the blunt anti-truth crusade brings about a lot of unnecessary censorship (not the funny kind). Here's today's blacklist:

  • "Six" or "four" or "six four." June 4 (6/4) was the date Chinese troops shot and killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the central Beijing square. As a result, none of those numbers return information about the event on Chinese search engines, according to the Reuters .
  • "Today." The character "今天" for "today" has also been banned, according to Twitter users. If today is anything like last year, then "yesterday" (昨天) and “tomorrow” (明天) are also banned. 
  • "23" = 23rd anniversary of the conflict.
  • "Candle." Every year since the massacre, huge candle light vigils have been staged in Hong Kong to remember those who died. As such, the word candle is banned. And, according to the BBC, "China's main microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, has deactivated the candle emoticon, commonly adopted on the web to mourn deaths. After users responded by trying to replace the banned candle emoticon with the Olympic flame symbol, the website deactivated it too. 
  • "Never forget" or 勿忘 as in "never forget 6.4"
  • "89" 1989 was the year the crackdown occurred. 
  • "Anniversary" or 周年
  • "Declaration  or 宣言 , i.e., “Hunger Strike Declaration” (绝食宣言)
  • "Commemorate" or 纪念
  • "Go into the street" or 上街
  • "Evening event" or 晚会
  • "Silent tribute" or 默哀

Of course, not all censored words are treated equally. In some cases, when these terms are entered into search engines the reply is a blank screening saying the results could not be displayed "due to relevant laws, regulations and policies." At other times, the results are merely massaged. When you type in "Tiananmen Square," for instance, you'll receive boring tourist information and photographs of the landmarks instead of the photo shown above. (For a larger list of Tiananmen Square censorship over time, go here.) This year, the campaign has become so severe, that stories with no relationship to Tiananmen Square whatsoever have been blocked. As Mark MacKinnon at Canada's Globe and Mail discovered, that included "the stock market news – as well as the online memorial for the Chinese student who was murdered in Montreal." This type of blunt censorship has forced American journalism instructors working in China (yes, they do exist) to walk a fine line in when it comes to exposing Chinese students to their government's history, as The New York Times' Lara Farrar reported in today's paper. Still, as The Atlantic's China expert James Fallows points out, the Chinese government isn't the only regime scared of certain trigger words: The Department of Homeland Security has its own list "terms-to-watch" when monitoring social media, like "shots fired," "pipe bomb" or "gangs." Regardless, you can be sure that if you're in China, it will be a confusing day of searching and tweeting given the broad range of colloquial terms banned. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.