As It Happens

China nixes letter N online to nullify President Xi Jinping naysayers

Critics of China's potential president for life are numb and nauseated. But they can't use a certain letter to notify their neighbours of this noxious negativity.
China's censors have been working overtime since the news broke that Chinese President Xi Jinping is now set to rule his country for life — removing social media posts from Weibo, the country's state-monitored answer to Twitter. (Nicolas Asfouri-Pool/Getty Images)

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They're numb and nauseated. But they can't use a certain letter to notify their neighbours of this noxious negativity. And that letter is N

Recently, Chinese Communist notables announced the news that the nation's president would no longer be narrowly required to serve only two five-year terms in office. Now, Xi Jinping could be president forever — to which numerous Chinese netizens are saying, "Nope."

Nevertheless, the leaders will not be nit-picked or needled. To neutralize criticism, this week, they're negating certain normal, natural elements of online conversation. They're censoring search terms like "shameless", "personality cult", and "disagree."

And they've really nonplussed the naysayers by making one particular letter an online no-no: the letter N.

That seems nightmarish and nonsensical, but it's not. Chinese netizens have long been censored for using codes to criticize their leaders.

For example, when authorities noticed that nonbelievers were comparing Xi to Winnie the Pooh, they censored online searches for that nice character. It's not noble, but the authorities are nervous about non-compliance. 

Weibo is a popular social media platform in China. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Victor Mair — an expert on China from the University of Pennsylvania — writes: "This is probably out of fear on the part of the government that 'N' = 'n terms in office', where possibly n is greater than 2." 

That's a confusing, but neat, example of how involved the coded language has to be, so you don't get nabbed and nailed for negative nuances. 

There's always been censorship in China. But now the authorities have taken it to the Nth degree. And without N, you can't make noise. 

You're left with nothing — or less than nothing. 


Script by Chris Howden, read by Jeff Douglas and adapted for web by Sheena Goodyear

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