After publishing a blockbuster story revealing that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s family are (or at the very least have been), collectively, multibillionaires, the New York Times got itself blocked from the Chinese internet. In other words, the Grey Lady was “river crabbed.” That is Chinese online slang for “censored.” (The phrase came about because the Chinese word for river crab—he xie (河蟹)—sounds like the word for “harmonious society.” It is a gentle poke at the Communist Party’s idea that depriving people of information prevents social unrest.)
Here is a selection of other significant Chinese stories that have been squashed under a giant river crab:
Ai Weiwei’s Gangnam Style censorship parody
In a fantastic piece of irony, China’s censors have blocked a video that artist Ai Weiwei made of himself dancing to South Korean pop sensation PSY’s Gangnam Style that…. pokes fun at the internet censors.
Ai’s song is called “Grass Mud Horse Style.” If “river crabbing” means censorship, “grass mud horse” or “cao ni ma” (草尼马) is slang for “getting around the internet censors.” That is because the Chinese phrase sounds similar to another “cao ni ma” (操你妈) which is an incredibly rude way of telling someone to go away.
Ai wears handcuffs in his video, just in case the message is not clear enough.
The poisoned milk scandal and the Olympic cover up
In late July 2008, a reporter at Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekly), an investigative title, found out that more than 20 babies had been hospitalised for kidney stones after drinking tainted milk. Farmers had laced their milk with a deadly chemical, melamine, to ostensibly boost the protein content at inspection time so they could get away with selling watered-down products. The story was blocked until October 2008 because the Beijing government did not want it published until after that summer’s Beijing Olympic Games. After the first reports surfaced, it was revealed that thousands more young children had fallen sick and several had died. Mainland Chinese parents flooded into Hong Kong to buy non-Chinese milk and supermarkets could not cope with the demand. By last year, Chinese farmers were poisoning the milk again. The Chinese authorities said this was not another wave of negligent production, but an intentional, one-off criminal activity. Still, the second incident raises the question of whether censorship stops a society from learning from its mistakes.
Xi Jinping’s riches
Xi Jinping, widely expected to be China’s next president, is not as wealthy as Grandpa Wen, but according to Bloomberg, members of his family have hundreds of millions of dollars of investments. Xi once told party comrades they should “rein in” their rich relatives from visibly making or spending a lot of money. He perhaps did not mean relatives should not get rich, just that this should be kept a secret. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese censors blocked the story, and Bloomberg remains blocked in China.
For good measure, Bloomberg reported today that the brother of Li Keqiang (Li is premier Wen’s likely successor), runs China’s tobacco industry.
Blind, activist attorney escapes house arrest
Chen Guangcheng is a prominent, self-taught Chinese lawyer and anti-abortion campaigner who was placed under house arrest in 2010 and escaped spectacularly in April this year. He spent several days in the US Embassy in Beijing, left under what Chinese state owned media said was his own volition to attend hospital, and now lives in New York where he has been a visiting scholar at NYU and was just honored by Human Rights First. News of his dramatic escape from house arrest was scrubbed off of the Chinese internet.