Forbidden City. Forbidden Words. What's on China's 'Banned' List?

Nic Crowther
Fri 05 Jun

The tragic events of June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square will unlikely be forgotten by the West. In China, it’s a completely different story, and one that provides a lesson for anyone looking to travel to China for business or pleasure.

More than discussing Taiwan, and much more than Tibet, the topic of ‘Tiananmen’ is an absolute no-go for visitors to our northerly neighbour. Such is the complete clampdown on any details surrounding the events that even if you local hosts are aware of the happenings of 26 years ago, they’re very unlikely to comment (or even acknowledge) them.



Rather, for the average Chinese person, Tiananmen Square is a place of pilgrimage where loyal citizens can visit the embalmed corpse of Chairman Mao and wander through the Forbidden City – locate adjacent to the giant plaza.

The International Business Times has an interesting story on the latest words to be censored by the Chinese Government on the occasion of the massacre’s anniversary. By collecting results of denied word searches in Weibo (the Facebook/Twitter equivalent) it’s not difficult to see the heavy hand of government across Chinese social media.



The list, developed by the crowdsourcing project China Digital Times (CDT), offers a revealing insight into what is deemed innapropriate by the good burghers of Berijing.  CDT, coordinated by Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley, gives us a peek behind the Great Firewall to see what is not only provocative in regard to Tiananmen, but in broader Chinese culture as well.

Organised chronologically, you can track various uprisings and items of dissent: ‘Umbrella opening’ (Hong Kong protests), ‘Tiger Ai’ (the dissident artist, Ai Weiwei) and, this week, ‘26 years’.


Unsearchable words: This screenshot from the Weibo search engine returned a message that reads, "According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results of 'tiananmen' cannot be displayed." (IBT)


While we (appropriately) debate metadata laws in Australia, this list provides a reminder of just how far Government can reach in the digital environment. In the day-to-day context, It might go a long way to understanding the language and nuance of discussions with Chinese friends and business partners.