In 2015, those tasked with policing China’s social media networks certainly weren’t short of work. At least that’s the conclusion reached by a school of journalism based in Hong Kong, which put together a list of the country’s most heavily censured images. From Winnie the Pooh to the ‘toad’ president, the images that ended up in the crosshairs of censurers might not be what you expect.
Last December, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke out in favor of a world body tasked with governing cyberspace, which would recognize “every state’s right” to police its own internet. The official goal of this new strategy, baptized ‘cyber sovereignty’, would be to fight against terrorism and cyber crime. Yet the Chinese leader’s underlying aim was also to justify Beijing’s draconian censuring of its own internet.
According to the Hong Kong-based Journalism and Media Studies Centre, 2015 was a particularly busy year for China’s internet censurers. The school uses a tool called ‘Weiboscope’ to monitor the country’s censured web content. It found that it takes censurers between 28 minutes and two and a half hours to delete a post deemed ‘inappropriate’. China’s net police are nothing if not efficient.
The school’s Weiboscope has also tracked the most censured images on the internet in China. Though some of them might look harmless, they were nonetheless quickly deleted.
1. Winnie the Pooh, alias Xi Jinping
When Xi Jinping took part in a parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in September, people started sharing photos on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, comparing him to a toy Winnie the Pooh.
The photo was shared 65,000 times in just 69 minutes. After that, however, it disappeared from social media: apparently, China’s president didn’t take kindly to being compared to a cartoon bear.
2. Restrictions surrounding the military parade
Before that same military ceremony, residents received messages asking them to close their windows and to avoid venturing out onto their balconies during the parade. Some posted photos of the messages, which were quickly censured.
Several other images mocking the Chinese president for having to make a speech outside in spite of soaring temperatures were also posted online.
3. Joking about the former Chinese president is no laughing matter
Jiang Zemin led China from 1993 until 2002. Aged 89, he rarely appears in public and international observers say he's looking weary. Despite that, in August of last year, he did make a public appearance. In one photo, the former Chinese leader can be seen speaking to the crowd whilst leaning on a balcony. Chinese internet users took the opportunity to compare the 89-year-old to a toad, an amphibian notable for having only three fingers.
Once again, it’s not the first time Zemin has been compared to an amphibian. In 2014, social media users compared a giant inflatable toad floating on a lake in a Beijing park to the former leader.
4. The attack on the Chinese presidential convoy in the US
The Chinese president saw his presidential convoy surrounded by protesters for a few tense minutes during a visit to the US last September. The video was posted by activists based in the US, but was immediately pulled down from both Weibo and WeChat, China’s two most important social media networks.
The YouTube version was also censured, but not before it had been seen more than 10,000 times in barely a few hours.
5. Taiwan doesn't merit its own flag
Last November, Xi Jinping met Taiwan’s head of state Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore. It was the first time the heads of state of both countries had met since 1949. But during the leaders’ closing speeches, rebroadcast by Chinese state television, CCTV decided to blur the Taiwanese flag that the Taiwanese president was wearing on his lapel.
Chinese citizens flooded social media with screen grabs of the clip that showed the flag without any blur. Others went one step further and simply posted images of the Taiwanese flags. According to WeiboScope, in less than one hour, all of the images had disappeared from the internet.