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Words Disappear From the Chinese Language — Online at Least

Beijing seeks to scrub all mention of any words that could be associated with a lone protester hanging a banner on a bridge

On October 13, days before the Chinese Communist Party Congress’s scheduled fifth-year meeting, Peng Lifa, (online, Peng Zaizhou) stood on an overpass in Beijing — dressed as a construction worker — and unfurled two banners demanding an end to zero-COVID policies and the removal of Xi Jinping as CCP leader. With security cameras everywhere, he was certain to be noticed. There was also an apparent tire fire on the bridge, which created a great deal of attention-riveting smoke.

The stakes are high:

Such an incident poses an embarrassment for Xi, who is expected to secure an unprecedented third five-year term in office in the upcoming party congress. Held every five years, the meeting is set to kick off on Oct. 16 in Beijing, during which the next round of top leadership will also be unveiled.

Dissenters and petitioners previously told The Epoch Times that since September, police have appeared on local streets, monitoring their homes day and night.

With just days left to the pivotal political meeting, it’s highly unusual for protests to pop up in the country, especially in the political center of Beijing, where a city-wide mass surveillance system has been installed since 2015. According to Comparitech, a UK-based cyber security website, approximately 7.9 million surveillance cameras watch the city 24 hours daily.

Dorothy Li, “Rare Protest Against Xi Appears in Beijing Days Before CCP’s Congress” at Epoch Times (October 14, 2022)

Very thorough censorship of social media kicked in, to scrub the event from people’s minds:

He maximized the impact he could make in the few minutes he had, and succeeded in getting attention and getting his messages out: photos and video clips widely circulated on Chinese social media before censorship kicking in. Sitong Overpass, Peng Zaizhou, Peng Lifa, Haidian, brave man, Third Ring Road North, bridge + fire, banner (四通桥、彭载舟、彭立发、 勇士、海淀、北三环、北四环、桥+火、横幅 + ) have since become sensitive words subject to account deletion and suspension. Rumor has it that WeChat has blocked 600,000 accounts for posting pictures of, or commenting on, the Beijing Sitong Overpass incident. A journalist reported that his account was suspended for 60 days for merely saying “I’ve seen it.”

China Change, “Identity of the Man Who Pulled Off Protest on Beijing Overpass Amid Unprecedented Security Before the CCP Congress” at China Change (October 13, 2022)

China Change reports that Peng is an engineer with published papers:

Peng has a background in physics and published a paper, which he tweeted, about electromagnetic force in Science and Technology Innovation Herald (科技创新导报), a state aerospace publication, as recently as 2021. Interestingly, on the website researchgate.net where his paper is available online, he has a tag that reads “Universal Suffrage Committee of the People’s Republic of China”.

He is also a partner at a company called Beijing Melon Network Technology Co., Ltd. (北京甜瓜网络科技有限公司) that sells acrylic products.

China Change, “Identity of the Man Who Pulled Off Protest on Beijing Overpass Amid Unprecedented Security Before the CCP Congress” at China Change (October 13, 2022)

China Change staff fear he will be tortured severely and may die in prison. He is seen as another Tank Man — no one knows what happened to the iconic man who faced down the tanks, though theories abound.

If you lived in China, you would find it difficult indeed to get information about what happened except via covert word of mouth:

Additional sensitive words have added to the regime’s already expansive online censorship efforts.

In addition to the words and phrases on the banners, expressions such as Sitong Bridge, Beijing, Haidian (the district), banners, brave man, and courage have been censored from Chinese social media platforms…

The phrase “I have seen it!” has also been banned on Chinese social media, after people started using it to refer to the protest…

A song with the title “Sitong Bridge” has also been removed from Chinese online music platforms, according to The Associate Press on Thursday.

Sophia Lam, “Beijing Hastily Recruits More Security, Ups Censorship of ‘Bridge Man’ Protest Before Party Congress” at Epoch Times (October 15, 2022)

Similarly, from China Digital Times,

QQ Music deleted all comments under the song “The Brave One” by No Party For Cao Dong. Apple Music removed the song “Sitong Bridge” from its Chinese streaming service and Baidu removed a page on the song from its digital encyclopedia. CDT’s Eric Liu, a former censor, pointed out that the intensity of this round of censorship rivaled, if not surpassed, the bout that followed Peng Shuai’s accusation that former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her.

Alexander Boyd, “Beijing Bridge Protest Scraped From Web As Censorship Tightens Before Party Congress ” at China Digital Times (October 13, 2022)

A 2014 pop song about the bridges of Beijing has also been banned from all of China’s media because in one rendition it was dubbed, with images believed to be of Peng Lifa added:

The curious thing is that, if you knew all the words and music that had suddenly been banned, you might easily guess the nature of the event. That’s a perennial pitfall of censorship of any kind.

The local authorities are not stopping there. They are hiring temporary security guards to watch all the bridges in Beijing.

The incident is seen internationally as tarnishing Xi’s image (Washington Post, October 14) even if he gets the five-year extension he is seeking.

Here is a compilation of images from different angles from China Digital Times:

You may also wish to read: China’s Covid Theater: It’s not really about the disease. Not exactly. As the Twentieth National Congress looms, the Chinese Communist Party does not want any COVID in Beijing. Despite strict censorship, the sufferings of Chinese people under the zero-Covid policy are becoming more widely known.

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Words Disappear From the Chinese Language — Online at Least