Chinese editions of MSN Spaces censor political terms

Following up on last week's BoingBoing posts (one, two) about the curious censorship and intellectual property details of Microsoft's new blogging tool MSN Spaces, BoingBoing reader Weizhong Yang in Taipei, Taiwan says:

I would like to tell you that some Chinese readers of BoingBoing (such as me) recently tried to know if the Traditional Chinese and the Simplified Chinese MSN Spaces censored some words, after reading your post 'MSN Spaces: seven dirty blogs'. Well, they indeed did that. We found that the Traditional Chinese MSN Spaces censored words such as oral sex, anal sex and so on, by the way, they censored two important and common used words which make us feel unbelievable.

One is a word pronounced as cao which means fucking sometimes, however, it also means operating, handling, exercising or practicing, and there was a famous king/hero/tyrant in about the second century called Cao Cao. Therefore you cannot set certain derivations of that word, (for instance Cao Cao and Yang Xiu, which is a famous traditional Chinese drama play) as the title of your MSN Space. Another common word is censored too, which means fucking sometime but also means doing something or the main body of something.

The situation of the Simplified Chinese MSN Spaces is even worse. Names of many contemporary political figures are censored such as Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Lee Teng-hui and so on. "Socialism With Chinese Characteristics" is censored, too.

Here are some related URLs (in Chinese, with the censored Chinese characters shown): Link one, Link two.

Link to Weizhong's blog post (in Chinese), which also shows the banned Chinese characters.

Following up on Mr. Yang's email, I contacted Xiao Qiang, Director of the Berkeley China Internet Project Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley (also a student of BoingBoing's "band manager", John Battelle). He adds this background:

As for the subject of how Chinese government keywords filtering, the full list of the keywords are covered on my China Digital New Blog. (John is also part of the project, helped to found the weblog last year.) Here is my essay with a list of the words you never see in Chinese cyberspace: Link. Some of the Chinese keywords are translated and analyzed here: Link. And my recent article about blogging in China is here: Link.

It will be very revealing if we can dig out what Microsoft has build into their new blogging software. The emails you got from those Taiwan users are clear evidence of it, even it is far from the full list of these words.

My guess is the list Miscrosoft use will be largely identical to what I have posted on China Digital News site, since it is the list universally used by almost all Chinese web hosting services, with some modification for each specific service. They got this list of banned words, and it is being updated constantly, from the net police, I suspect Miscrosoft will get it from the same source.

It would be very interesting for Taiwanese or other Chinese-speaking people to test MSN Spaces by using the list of words I published, just to see whether they are coming from the same source or not.

Link to Mr. Qiang's China Digital News project.

BoingBoing reader Tom McGrenery adds,

Ironically, a lot of the Chinese character censorship is related to the self-censorship of the Chinese language for some time now.

For example, the whole thing about Cao Cao. Now "cao", the verb "to fuck" used to be a character showing the verb "to enter" over the character for "meat". I think we can all figure out why it may have been considered ever so slightly crude. However, instead of dealing with the idea that people wanted to write "fuck" every so often, the Chinese ended up with substitute characters. A popular alternative was just writing "X" instead of a naughty character, but of course, if context wasn't enough, you had to spell out which character it was meant to be. I mean, did X mean "fuck" or, perhaps, "shit"? So, things moved onto using alternate characters -e.g. characters also pronounced "cao" that didn't originally mean "fuck".

The upshot? Well, according to censorship software, they now all mean "fuck". Welcome to China.