By NBC News' Adrienne Mong and Bo Gu
BEIJING -- We’ve written a lot about China’s Great Firewall, or Net Nanny. In the process, we’ve always tried to make the point about how straightforward it is for people here with wherewithal to circumvent the government’s Internet controls.
But what really impresses us is how easily people here get around not just by using VPNs (virtual private networks) but by using the Chinese language.
Take the would-be Jasmine Revolution. Last weekend, an anonymous circular made the rounds on various Chinese sites run outside of China, calling for an uprising fashioned after those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere. The note called on people to show up at designated locations in 13 cities to protest corruption and censorship and to demand a more democratic government. Since then, there have been calls for regular attempts to gather every Sunday.
The Chinese authorities responded immediately. In addition to rounding up the usual suspects of dissidents, lawyers and other activists, the government cracked down on the Internet.
Searches for the word “jasmine” were blocked in online chat rooms and Chinese social networking sites like Sina.com’s Weibo. (Like major Western social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is not accessible inside China.)
One report noted that it might be tough for officials to completely ban the word “jasmine” from online use, apparently because it’s also the name of a Chinese folk song popular with the Communist Party leadership.
Regardless, plenty of folks have already come up with ingenious ways to get around the controls. New “codes” have been adopted to circumvent the Great Firewall and help spread the call for another round of protests.
Boxun.com, the website where the original call for China’s “jasmine revolution” was issued, just put up a new post encouraging netizens to use the phrase “two sessions” as a substitute for “jasmine.” “Two sessions” here refers to the annual National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, held in Beijing every March.
In this vein, the phrase “to protest at a square” becomes “to hold two sessions at a square.” This tactic would greatly embarrass the authorities if they tried to censor the phrase as they would need to delete anything related to their own Party events that will dominate China’s media in fewer than two weeks.
Another example of playing around with language is the word “protest.” The act itself is now being represented by the phrase, “to take a stroll,” when people want to discuss online mass demonstrations without being censored.
Of course, as we write this, searches for the name of the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, Jr., is now a sensitive “term” on Chinese microblogs. See our earlier blog about Huntsman being spotted outside a McDonald's where some protests were coincidentally being held.
Wonder what great euphemism netizens might come up for him if that’s the case.