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China Just Banned A Bunch Of Words On Social Media, As Well As The Letter 'N'
2 months ago

This past Sunday, China's ruling communist party made the announcement that they are abolishing term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to serve as the country's leader indefinitely.

Carl Minzer, a China scholar at Fordham Law School, explained to NPR:

This is simply the most recent of a long range of steps. If you just go back to last fall at the Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party had its own meeting and they didn't designate a successor to Xi Jinping as you might've expected. There would've been a tradition as you go into the second term as general party secretary. They at least anoint who the next successor would be. And moreover, they raised his ideological profile up in a way that started to resemble that of Mao.

There was swift backlash across the popular Chinese social media sites, Weibo and WeChat. Many alluded to dystopian novels, such as George Orwell's 1984. And, according to Mashable, people on Chinese social media began to notice that their statuses wouldn't post because they contained banned words.

They took to Twitter to let people know exactly what was going on:

On Tuesday, China Digital Times posted a running list of newly banned words:

Others kept their own tallies:

And for some reason, the letter "N" got banned:

On Monday, a language blogger and Chinese expert at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Victor Mair, published an explanation for this on Language Log...

For example, since the Roman alphabet is part of the Chinese writing system*, it's only fair for letters to be subject to censorship the way Sinographs are. Comments like this Twitter thread show the letter N being censored on Weibo (a microblogging website that is one of the most popular social media platforms in China). This is probably out of fear on the part of the government that "N" = "n terms in office", where possibly n > 2; as in "liánrèn n jiè 连任n届" ("n successive terms in office"), which would be forbidden anyway because of the liánrèn 连任 ("continue in office") part.

The ban on the letter "N" seemed to be short-lived. On Tuesday, Business Insider reported that it had been lifted, but the bans on other words remain in place.

Some focused on the fear on both sides:

Others thought that this was a slide towards dictatorship:

And others simply tweeted the banned words, or found clever ways around the ban:

This is a developing story, so watch this space.