Censors in China are so powerful they can detect when a single letter is used and auto-ban the content.
On Monday, the Chinese government demonstrated just how much power it has over the opinions of its billion-strong population by deciding to ban use of a single letter. That letter is ‘N’ and its censorship followed moves by the Chinese Communist Party to remove the ten year limit on a presidency from the country’s Constitution.
As the BBC explained, the party is proposing to remove the expression “‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s Constitution in relation to how long both the President and Vice-President can remain in power. If removed, it would mean current President Xi Jinping could rule for as long as he wants and continue to consolidate his power.
As you’d expect, the discussion that followed this proposal online was far from positive. Business Insider reports that China’s Internet censors went into overdrive, banning words including “Xi JinP,” “emigrate,” “lifelong,” “indefinite control,” and “I disagree.” But they also went a step further and banned all use of the letter “N.” That may sound strange until you realize in China, N is the equivalent of how we use X in algebra to represent an unknown value. N also represents infinity and is most typically as a shortform for “No” when answering questions.
Chats on services such as the very popular Weibo were using N in a number of ways including to represent how long Xi Jinping would now be in power (infinity) or how they felt about it. The censors didn’t like that so they banned the character completely. That was on Monday, and by Tuesday the ban had been lifted. While banned, even typing just the letter “N” in a message would result in a “content is illegal!” message appearing on Weibo.
With discussion of the proposal to change the Constitution being so heavily censored, it seems likely it will happen regardless. Nobody can complain about it, after all, as their comments are deemed illegal content!