The Bing Shuai case: The Chinese are digging holes in censorship

Beijing | Cryptographic phrases, references to “watermelon” or “PS”: the case of tennis player Peng Shuai is silently bypassed in China, but netizens are showing knack for circumventing social network censorship.

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In a message posted online in early November, the hero spoke at length about her complicated relationship with former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and mentioned a sexual relationship with him that she felt “forced” to accept.

The text was only a few minutes left on the 35-year-old’s official account on the Chinese social network Weibo, before it was deleted by the censors.

Since then, the issue has been completely ignored in the Chinese media. Monitors are redoubling their efforts to erase any reference to the scandal on social media.

Thus, the majority of Chinese are not aware of the issue, especially since most foreign media websites are blocked in China.

But the information is still spread through private messages and word of mouth.

To circumvent the censorship, Internet users first began using the initials (“PS”) of the former world number one in doubles. And soon the trick was spotted and censored.

Hence the witty “coded” hash: “#Peng Yuyan is so handsome,” referring to Peng Yuyan, a Taiwanese actor famous in China.

The word “Bo” says “Shuai” in Mandarin, so the hashtag bears the first and last Chinese character “Peng” and “Shuai” – the name of the hero.

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Other Weibo users took to the tennis page to talk about a “big watermelon” that made headlines.

In Chinese, “eat watermelon” means interest in high-profile or eye-catching news.

“Even when I sleep, I wake up to eat watermelon,” one Weibo user wrote in a since-deleted post. Zhang did not mention Gaoli by name, but referred to him as “the politically sensitive person”.

On the Weibo account of the WTA, the international body that runs the women’s tennis circuit, some showed their “support” for the organization that decided to cancel its tournaments in China, without explicitly referring to Peng Shuai.

Internet users sometimes turn to the most unexpected corners of the web.

Some have commented on the issue on movie review site Douban, on the page dedicated to a South Korean series with the evocative name: Prime Minister and I

These various tips did not last long in the face of vigilant censors.

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