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Reports have surfaced that Chinese officials censored the letter N from Chinese internet for at least a day. The ban stemmed from people using one single letter -- the letter N -- to criticize the possibility of leader Xi Jinping ruling indefinitely.
Earlier this week, the Chinese Communist Party proposed to let current President Xi Jinping remain leader and effectively abolish the two-term limit for presidents and vice presidents. The proposal did not go over well with the public, even amongst those who supported the president and his policies.
But why target a singular letter? The government has neither confirmed nor denied doing the action or banning the letter. However, there are a number of screenshots from Weibo and WeChat users that have surfaced on Twitter that show censorship.
— Sandra F Severdia (@underbreath) February 25, 2018
There are several theories floating around as to why the letter N became censored for a short period of time. As with other languages, Chinese letters often represent numerical values as well as phonetic sounds. (It's similar to how algebra uses X to represent an unknown.)
The theory about the ban
University of Pennsylvania professor Victor Mair is an expert on Chinese culture and linguistics. His theory about the ban is that N often represents "n terms of office" where the value of "n > 2."
"Naturally, many people are deeply dismayed by this unwelcome turn of events," wrote Mair in a recent blog post. "Indeed, for as long as I've been studying China and observing Chinese affairs, I've never witnessed so much opposition to the CCP as what I've been seeing and hearing during the last couple of days — except for the months leading up to the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989."
In addition to the letter N, Chinese characters that mean "emigrate" or "disagree" were also banned. Mair also pointed out that "board a plane" was blocked because the phrase sounds exactly like the Chinese equivalent to "ascend the throne."
The censorship went so far as to ban popular Winnie the Pooh memes, which had often been used to compare Xi Jinping to the affable A.A. Milne character. Rather than use the comparison as a positive, however, Chinese meme creators use the teddy bear to make note regarding Xi's appearance.
Could've expected this, but still pretty creative. First images of "king Winnie" surfacing on Weibo in response to Xi's potential indefinite rule: https://t.co/u9kL5OYGwq#XiJinping#kingwinniepic.twitter.com/Bb6Dmy46xH— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) February 25, 2018
However, the state-run newspaper the Global Times quickly lashed out at those who noticed that dissenting voices were being blocked.
"The biggest reason for all this is that the rise of China has reached a critical point where some Westerners cannot psychologically bear it any longer. They wish to see misfortune befall the country," the Global Times said.
The newspaper continued, confirming that "Sino-US" relationships and relationships with other Western nations would remain largely unchanged. It did, however, very frequently mention the need for solidarity on all fronts in order for China to succeed.
"The solidarity of Chinese society will face tests. Pressure from the outside world may activate negative factors at home, which in turn, increase the costs of China maintaining stability," the government newspaper said.