Over the weekend I posted this photo titled "eating river crab that wears three watches" to my Flickr account. People who don't read Chinese blogs are - understandably - asking why. Let me explain.
At the World Economic Forum in Dalian last week Issac Mao and I were there in person when Premier Wen Jiabao broke major news with the announcement that he intends to build a harmonious society in China. Forum founder Klaus Schwab echoed Wen in his welcoming speech, calling for a "a new harmonious relationship among business, governments, society, and the environment." While technology pundits attending the conference swooned over Chinese internet companies, the government launched a new purge of internet data centers, shutting down thousands of websites - a story which most business and tech reporters covering the conference appear to have been too busy swooning to check out. Meanwhile see this article from the New York Times about how American financiers are helping beef up the Chinese government's surveillance capabilities.
In celebration of so much harmoniousness, Isaac and I led some Young Global Leaders, Tech Pioneers, New Champions and other esteemed foreign guests out of their conference-center-and-hotel cocoon to a local seafood place. We drank some local beer and Dalian fire-water and got to talking about the Chinese blogosphere. We thought it would be funny to create a real-life version of a mashup-pun about internet censorship that has been cropping up all over the Chinese blogosphere lately.
In China these days, if your website gets blocked, your blog-hosting service takes down a politically edgy post you wrote, or your ISP deletes your site completely, you say: "I've been harmonized." The word for harmony, harmonized, or harmonious (all the same word in Chinese) is pronounced "he xie" in Chinese and is written like this: 和谐. For those without Chinese fonts on their browser:
However, there's a slight problem, which is that since this phrase is so often used sarcastically on Chinese blogs and forums, it has been flagged as a sensitive keyword by many of the blog and forum hosting platforms, increasing the chances that a post using this phrase could itself get "harmonized." So bloggers and chatroom denizens have switched the characters to another phrase, 河蟹, also pronounced "he xie" (with slightly different tonation) which means "river crab:"
Thus, when bloggers seem to be writing nonsensically about "river crab," they're actually talking about censorship.
Then somebody somewhere started this photoshop-meme:
A crab wearing three watches. 河蟹带三个表。 What? Because the Chinese blogger Wang Xiaofeng writes under the pen name 带三个表 （"dai sange biao) which means "wears three watches" ... which is a pun on 三个代表 ("sange daibiao") which means "Three Represents," a political slogan coined by former President Jiang Zemin. Some blogger thought it would be funny to do a visual mashup combining "river crab" and "wears three watches." Now, if you do a Google search on the Chinese phrase 河蟹带三个表, you'll see people giggling about this mashup-meme all over the Chinese Internet.
In a blog post about how WEF delegates got a first-hand taste of Chinese Internet censorship last week, Isaac explained another catchphrase in the Chinese blogosphere these days. The "Great Firewall" is usually refered to as GFW. But Chinese bloggers now call it 功夫网 "gong fu wang" (also GFW) - which literally translates as "kung fu web." So sometimes when you see bloggers talking about kung fu, they may actually be talking about censorship.
Despite the Chinese government's fear of its netizens, and despite the fact that the WEF failed to address how unfortunate it is that the conference's host government fears its citizens in this way, Isaac still believes it's good that such events are being held in China. He writes:
Anyway, it's very interesting topic that GFW meets WEF. Its the real world of how China meets the world. How totalitarian meets open society. And how reality meets future. The interaction of China and world may face more and more such mindset conflictions in the coming decade, but we can believe the universal value of humanity can eventually win the future.