“Guangdong Wukan” and “Xue Jinbo,” Welcome to the Blocked List

“According to relevant laws and regulations, the search result of ‘Guangdong Wukan’ (广东乌坎) is not shown.” This is what you get if you type in “Guangdong Wukan” in Weibo’s search engine. The same alert will pop up if you type in “Xue Jinbo” (薛锦波).

In Chinese traditional medicine, a doctor can diagnose diseases by pressing the inner side of a patient’s wrist and feeling the pulse alone. It won’t be entirely unfair to say that Weibo’s search engine is like the wrist of China, one of the best places to feel the Chinese government’s pulse. It tells you what the government tolerates, or what it fears or feels absolutely paranoid about.

Since you’re reading this post, I assume you’ve known about the recent villagers’ revolt in Wukan, Guangdong in protest of the death of a villager under the custody of the police. Xue Jinbo was the said villager, one of the 13 representatives representing the villagers to negotiate with the local government on issues surrounding land seize, such as compensation. According to Xue’s family, his body had signs of torture. However, the forensic medical examiner’s report denied the possibility of abuse, and asserted that Xue died of cardiac arrest.

China News Service (CNS), a state news agency, reported the story (zh), which has been reposted on a few news websites. CNS reported that the situation in Wukan had been under control. It also asserted that the revolt was “provoked” by two village leaders, Lin Zulian and Yang Semao, who “spread rumors” and organized villagers to set up blockages to stop a “working group” to go into the village. “The blockages seriously disrupted villagers’ production and life,” according to CNS. The police arrested the two village leaders, who are waiting for punishment. Similar to Weibo, comments for the story are disabled on CNS and those websites that reposted it.

Nobody has a complete list of terms blocked in China online in general or on social media specifically. There are some classic standards such as “free Tibet” and “Taiwan independence,” but the list apparently keeps growing. Speaking only of this year, during the Arab Spring, “jasmine flower” was added to the list, and after Occupy Wall Street started this fall, for a certain time, “Occupy Wall Street” was also blocked. And only a couple of months later, these blocked terms have two new members.

I wouldn’t say that the government has tender nerves. After all, this year is the year of protest, and China is not entirely a country that’s short of things worth protesting.

Jin Zhao