Unspeakable Travel Possibilities

ChinesePod Jenny was telling me that she read about a story told by the CEO of C-trip (携程). C-trip was trying to make a Weibo post about “independent travel” (i.e. not travel with a tour group). In China, this kind of travel is called 自由行. 自由 means “free” (as in freedom), and is an abbreviation of 旅行, which means “travel.”

Well the word for “freedom” tripped the censorship filter, and the post was rejected.


So they figured that they could alter the word 自由 by using the character instead of . is a part of 旅游, another word for “travel.” That way you get 自游行 instead of 自由行. Identical pronunciation, and the meaning still comes across pretty clearly.

The post was rejected again, for having tripped the filter.

The reason is that they had unintentionally created the word 游行, which is the Chinese word for “demonstration” (as in the protest kind).

Whether or not the facts are 100% accurate, Chinese people find this kind of story quite amusing. There’s not much you can do about the current situation but grin and bear it. One does wonder how much longer this particular charade will carry on, though…

[I don’t have a link to the original article; please share it if you have it!]

John Pasden

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


  1. Surely it would be better to profile posters.. like high profile companies such as CTrip get a second-level assessment of anything that trips the censor triggers. A second-level assessment, by an actual human being, would have seen that the first article is harmless.. and the situation wouldn’t have happened.

    Clearly that could not happen for every, single poster.. but for the big companies or other high profile posters, it wouldn’t be too much work.. surely.

    • Yeah, certain “high profile” posters could apply for a Loyalty Badge that entitles them to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to automatic censorship filters. That sounds like a great solution to the problem. Or, you know, they could just TURN OFF THE FILTERS.

  2. In complete agreement with Brad. Imagine a China without an internet filter – one could only wonder at the amount of traffic which would flow easily and the amount of possibilities for both China and the world in all areas such as economics and politics, as well as in leisure activities such as travelling. However, besides China, all states do have internet filters of some kind – some tougher than others – which focus on nefarious activities of some kind (nefarious is a word which requires definition, a definition which would mostly likely change from state to state). Certain kinds of traffic is monitored as well as mined; this is the digital world, and one which we must cope with.

  3. Ha, nice. This sort of nonsense happens with profanity filters kicking in in European languages. I was on a German MMO game once, and someone tried to type something involving “honig” (honey) into the public chat, but the filter didn’t like “ho” so it just left “nig”, which was far worse than what they’d being trying to type in the first place.

  4. […] situation, although more interesting, also reminded me of the word-parsing censorship problem I’ve written about before (also involving the word […]

  5. maxiewawa Says: March 31, 2014 at 10:04 am

    So to summarize:

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