Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Navigating internet censorship in China

Navigating internet censorship in China

Li Zhang

This paper explores linguistic features Chinese citizens use to communicate across the internet and social media in a political environment where the totalitarian government is intent on exerting control and limiting free speech. Ever since access to the internet became widespread, the Chinese government has imposed strict censorship to prohibit (or limit) the spread of criticism of the government, the escalation of alternative viewpoints from political activists and the growth of profanity on the web. This strict censorship has resulted in a great number of words and phrases becoming taboo in the webspace with the result that these words and/or phrases are routinely blocked or deleted by the internet service provider. However, with thousands of years of practice in circumventing taboos, Chinese people never cease to utilize their creativity and linguistic resources to formulate new expressions to communicate important political and social messages. This paper will briefly introduce the current political and social environment that has resulted in a high level of censorship and then focus on the analysis of the newly-coined expressions popular among internet users in China in the last ten years to avoid taboos. This will demonstrate which linguistic features of Mandarin are most often used by internet users to creatively communicate their message and avoid censorship.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. We talked about this a little bit in my modern East Asia class and I’d love to read it when you’re done!

    Comment by Jennifer Reed | April 9, 2019 | Reply

  2. As someone who does not speak Mandarin, this seems like a fascinating topic to read about. Your argument is clear and the points you mention that will be discussed support your ideas well. I am curious as to how you define “profanity” in your paper, and would like to read more about that.
    Other than that, I would love to read your paper!

    Comment by Dina Charara | April 23, 2019 | Reply

  3. Because the practice of circumventing censorship in China is so widespread, is there ever an issue where a circumvention becomes censored? For instance, say the word “angry” is banned on the internet and people use “boiling” as a replacement. Does the replacement ever get censored? Do you think an evolving censorship leads to an equally evolving Chinese language or does it have a negative, limiting effect.

    Comment by Shannon McKeown | April 23, 2019 | Reply

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