The annual meetings of China’s legislative and consultative bodies – known as the Two Sessions – is always a sensitive time for the country’s media industry. But following a constitutional amendment to drop the Chinese president’s term limit, censorship has been taken to new levels.
The expression “boarding” (which sounds in Chinese like “ascending to the throne”), and the letter “N” (which communicates “no”) were banned from use online.
And a fairly reasonable query posed on Zhihu – China’s version of Quora – triggered its suspension from all app stores for a week as a punishment.
The question posted was: “What should passengers do if their bus driver – suffering from driver fatigue – does not change duty yet drives non-stop?”
The most popular answer gave this reply: “The driver is capable of managing the overall situation, being reasonably futuristic. [He can] lead us in building a safe and wonderful world.”
Another Zhihu user replied: “I support [the driver].”
However, the state censors evidently thought these exchanges were coded references to President Xi ruling indefinitely, with the Beijing Cyberspace Administration subsequently faulting Zhihu for “lax regulation and spreading of unlawful information”.
Another “unusual” item blocked online were the names and images of two female broadcast journalists – Zhang Huijun and Liang Xiangyi.
This followed a captivating moment of live television on the fringes of the Two Sessions. At a televised press conference chaired by Xiao Yaqing, chairman of Sasac, Zhang, dressed in red, “delivered” a softball question in musical tones that lasted for over a minute – and appeared to be an attempt to hog the limelight. Apparently annoyed by Zhang’s verbosity and self-conceit, Liang – who was sitting next to her – dramatically rolled her eyes and turned her head away.
The episode immediately went viral, prompting memes and mockery for the few hours before the images were scrubbed from the internet.
Liang’s gesture of annoyance seemed to strike a chord with the public, but the authorities were less impressed by her disruptive performance. Both reporters had their media accreditation revoked and it was rumoured that Liang might have been fired by her employer CBN, a media outlet.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing to be banned though were foreigners. According to the South China Morning Post, three restaurants and bars in Beijing’s university district Wudaokou said police had asked them to keep out large groups of non-Chinese until after the end of the National People’s Congress.
“Until March 22, every Friday night and Saturday, as requested by local authorities, we can only allow a maximum of 10 foreigners in at a time,” a notice at one restaurant read. A police officer told the Hong Kong-based newspaper that “everything is stricter during the Two Sessions”.
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