Curtailed Freedom (in Characters)

15 Nov 2013

There’s an interesting article on Pro Publica titled: How to Get Censored on China’s Twitter (“China’s Twitter,” being, of course, Weibo).

What especially caught my eye was the mention of this use of Chinese characters:

ziyou-mutian

The characters involved are 自由 and 目田. The former is a real word meaning “freedom,” the letter is a nonsensical combination of two characters (“eye” + “field”), chosen for their appearance only.

I really love how creativity with characters (something I call characterplay) allows for circumvention of censorship. This case is particularly ironic, because in order to avoid automated detection you’re literally removing the top part of both characters, a nice parallel to the content removal activities going on behind the scenes at Weibo.

This situation, although more interesting, also reminded me of the word-parsing censorship problem I’ve written about before (also involving the word 自由).

Link via Sinocism.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. 字油脕碎!

  2. actually 自由 means “freedom”,but the other was combine with two single word.and they can’t be translated into a meaningful word or phrase by English as you’ve taught.but if it was written in 自申,that could be translated as “say something for one’s self”…that’s a little bit funny,right?

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