June 30, 2015

E-Book on Chinese Internet Terms and Censorship by UC Berkeley School of Information Faculty Member


What does it mean to “use the Internet scientifically”? For web users in China, this phrase is used in online forums and other discourse to describe methods to circumvent Chinese Internet censorship. It is a parody of the phrase “Scientific Outlook on Development”, a slogan coined by former Chinese president Hu Jintao’s to integrate Marxist worldview with China’s current circumstances.

This “code” phrase, among many others, can be found in a recently updated e-book, Decoding the Chinese Internet, published by Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information. The glossary illuminates the connection between cybersecurity and semantics and linguistics, particularly how future cybersecurity will never be as easy as machine-learning and reading.

The new e-book, available on a donation basis, is based on the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, an online glossary of terms that are “created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions.” The introduction notes that the purpose of this wiki is “moving beyond anecdotal evidence and systematically documenting and interpreting political discourse created by Chinese netizens.”

The new e-book recently was covered by “The World,” a syndicated show on PRI, which created an interactive guide to nine of the terms, such as “river-crabbing” (which refers to censorship) and “drink tea” (a euphemism for police interrogation).

“Organized by broad categories, Decoding the Chinese Internet guides readers through the raucous world of China’s online resistance discourse,” explains an overview of the publication. “Students of Mandarin will gain insight into word play and learn terms that are key to understanding Chinese Internet language. But no knowledge of Chinese is needed to appreciate the creative leaps netizens make in order to keep talking.”

Qiang is the founder and editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, a bilingual collaborative China news website. A theoretical physicist by training, Xiao studied at the University of Science and Technology of China and entered the PhD program in astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame. He was executive director of the New York-based NGO Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002 and vice-chair of the World Movement for Democracy steering committee.

He teaches classes on Participatory Media/Collective Action and Covering China at both the School of Information and the Graduate School of Journalism. He also researches and writes about state online censorship and propaganda, the emerging “Citizen Blogging” movement, and network activism in Chinese cyberspace. In fall 2003, he launched  to explore how to apply Web 2.0 technologies to aggregate, interpret, and contextualize news about China.



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