Avoiding Internet Censorship in China

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The Chinese government has high hopes for their ability to censor Internet content. But despite the government’s goals, their ability to successfully do it is questionable. There are many ways people have found to circumvent the government’s Internet filtering, such as use of proxy servers, private emails, and manipulating one’s search. But, there is one way in particular that is absolutely amazing. 

One of the main ways netizens avoid it is through getting creative with puns and memes. Mandarin is a tonal language with limited phonemes*, and puns are common, especially ones that change meaning through different tones. Authorities are able to target certain keywords to wipe out “inappropriate” content. By using these puns, netizens are able to speak freely while avoiding the censors.

  1. The river crab.

héxiè (河蟹) means “river crab”

héxié (和谐) means “harmony”

This is a euphemism for Internet censorship. One of the philosophies of the Communist government is to live in a harmonious society. When a post is deleted online, Internet users will say that it has been “harmonized”.

  1. Grass mud horse

cǎonímǎ (草泥马) means “grass mud horse”

càonǐmā (操你妈) means “fuck you” or “fuck your mother”

The grass mud horse is a made-up creature that has become a symbol of the struggles of Internet censorship, and it is the opponent of the river crab. 

  1. Kung fu web 

Gōngfūwǎng (功夫网)

This is another euphemism for censorship. Mentions of kung fu in blog posts often refer to censorship. The words in the pinyin start with the letters g, f, w. These letters make up the abbreviation for the Great Firewall**. 

When talking about some topics, people will use English abbreviations of the pinyin in place of the Chinese characters. This way, they will not attract the attention of the government censoring mechanism. 

  1. ZF, JC, FB

Zhèngfǔ (政府) means “government”

Jǐngchá (警察) means “police” or “police officer”

Fǔbài (腐败) means “corruption”

It can generally be said that the content censored on the Chinese Internet relates to the government in some way. It either criticizes them or goes against their ideals. China has a long history of corruption with their political leaders. It’s been such a huge issue that cracking down on political corruption became one of Xi Jinping’s main goals when he took office. But, as these topics are censored, they are still issues that the government is sensitive about.  

*A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that conveys a different meaning.

**See my post on Internet censorship policy for an explanation of what the Great Firewall is. Or Google it. Or assume it is simply a wall made of fire. Up to you.


Chao, E. (2009). Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught In School. (C. Murphy, Illustrator.). United States of America: Penguin Group.Mina, A.

X. (2014). Batman, Pandaman and the Blind Man: A Case Study in Social Change Memes and Internet Censorship in China. Journal of Visual Culture, Vol. 13(Iss. 3), 359–375.

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