Tuesday, May 1, 2012

China rushes to erase blind activist from social media

BEIJING — A well-known blind activist's escape from house arrest in China has set off a cat-and-mouse conflict on the Internet between censors and netizens.

As word of Cheng Guangcheng's flight surfaced and spread last Friday, admirers rushed to popular Chinese social media to cheer him on -- and the censors swung into action to block key phrases.

Here's a look at some of those phrases, which serve as a case study of the Communist government's extensive Web censorship -- and how the public tries to evade the controls:

--CHEN GUANGCHENG: China's most popular microblog site, Sina Weibo, and other services bar searches for Chen's name in Chinese characters and English letters after news emerges Friday of his April 22 escape.

--A BING: Some users start referring to Chen as A Bing, a popular blind folk musician. But censors catch on and by late afternoon Friday, Sina Weibo and other services block that name.

--BLIND MAN: Users refer to Chen, who lost his sight in childhood, as "blind man" or "blind lawyer." After those terms are barred Friday, some users start using a medical term for fat under the heart that looks like the Chinese character for blind.

--DONGSHIGU and LINYI: The names of Chen's home village and the city nearby are blocked on Friday. Some posters start writing the names using different Chinese characters with similar pronunciation.

--C-GUANG-C: Some posters try to evade the censors by using Chen's initials or unusual spellings for his name such as C-Guang-C, but are blocked.

--AMERICAN EMBASSY and CONSULATE: Also blocked on Friday, following reports that Chen is under the protection of U.S. diplomats. Read More