Jesus and Mao on China’s Internet

On April 7, the online magazine Tea Leaf Nation (one of my favorites) published an article titled Infographic: Jesus More Popular Than Mao on China’s Twitter.

The writer set out to determine the prevalence of religious content vs. political content on Weibo and discovered (much to her surprise, it seems) that “the atheist Chinese Communist Party, known for its sometimes heavy-handed policies towards religions, from Islam to Christianity to Tibetan Buddhism, seems far more willing to allow Christian terminology to appear on Weibo than Communist argot, according to data taken from search results on the platform conducted April 3.”

She did a search for “Bible” and “Quotations of Chairman Mao,” and discovered 17 million recent mentions of “Bible” and only 60,000 mentions of Quotations of Chairman Mao.”

A search for “Xi Jinping” (China’s President and General Secretary of the Communist Party) yielded 4 million mentions, while a search for “Jesus” yielded more than 18 million mentions.

She found 41.8 million mentions of “Christian Congregation,” while “Communist Party” only turned up 5.3 million mentions.

In other words, the words “Bible,” “Jesus,” or “Christian” are NOT considered to be sensitive words on Weibo. This is something that I wrote about on this site last year in an article for ChinaSource titled China’s Online Christian Community.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the Tea Leaf Nation article veers off course a bit when the writer highlights the results of her search for the term “underground church:”

“That’s not to say that Christian content is free of censorship. A search for the term “underground church,” referring to Christian congregations in China that refuse to register as one of the state-sanctioned churches, produces a blank search page with a notice reading, “results cannot be displayed due to relevant laws and regulations.””

The implication is clearly that these un-registered churches are outside the bounds on Weibo (and by extension, the Internet in general), and therefore fall into the ‘not permitted’ category.

Here’s the problem:  people in China generally do not use the term “underground church” (地下教会) to refer to congregations that are not registered as state-sanctioned churches. That’s a term used almost exclusively by foreigners. The common term for these unregistered churches is “house church” (家庭教会). This is true even if the church meets in a venue other than a house, such as rented office space.

If she had used the term “house church” instead, she would have discovered thousands, if not millions of mentions, something that would have actually bolstered her findings.

That mistake notwithstanding, her conclusion is spot on:

“Chatter about religion may make the Chinese government queasy, and occasionally terrified, but it’s politics that keeps its leaders (and censors) awake at night.”

Note: This post first appeared on the ChinaSource Blog.


New Weibo Posting Rules? Been There, Done That

The local blogosphere was abuzz this week with the news that Sina Weibo, China's main micro-blogging site had posted a 'user contract' (a list of rules, really) that their microblog users must adhere to.

I read through them (you can read them here in English), and just chuckled because it's essentially a re-hash (but with some updated langauge to include social media) of a document that I remember signing when I registered for my very first internet/email account in Changchun, back in 1996.

The internet was new back then (having just been invented by Al Gore), and in order to access this new-fangled thing I had to ride my bike downtown to the Post and Telecommunications Office to sign up. This meant filling out lots of papers and leaving them with a copy of my passport.

I also had to read and sign the 'terms of use' document, which is essentially what this new Weibo contract is ( but maybe a bit more indirect), as I remember Item #1 on the list was simply, "You may not use the internet to harm China."

Nice to have that settled.

Regarding all of this hullabaloo, I tend to agree with this post at a blog called Tea Leaf Nation: 5 Reasons that Sina's New User Contract will Have No Impact.

Well said indeed.

Behind the Great Firewall

I’ve moved!  Not by choice, mind you, but because I now find myself behind the Great Firewall of China.  The blog-hosting company that I’d been using (blog-city) has been blocked here in China.  Which means that I can’t access it to put up any new posts.  After much research and poking around, I’ve decided to land here. 

For those if you outside of China, you can still access my blog at the other site to read my past postings. The address is  Anything that I write from now on will be posted at this site.

It’s been a most frustrating experience.  So many serious concerns here, and they throw their resources into blocking websites!

Yesterday I took some visiting friends to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  Despite the fog, I was able to get this good shot.