China censorship after Xi Jinping presidency extension proposal

China’s governing Communist Party has proposed removing a clause in the constitution which limits presidencies to two five-year terms – which means President Xi Jinping could remain as leader after the end of his second term in 2023.

The controversial move has ignited discussion on Chinese social media and pushed online government censors into overdrive.

Several key terms have suddenly been subjected to heavy censorship on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog since Sunday.

According to censorship-monitoring websites China Digital Times and Free Weibo, censored phrases include:

  • I don’t agree
  • migration
  • emigration
  • re-election
  • election term
  • constitution amendment
  • constitution rules
  • proclaiming oneself an emperor
  • Winnie the Pooh

The tradition of limiting China’s presidencies to 10 years emerged in the 1990s, when veteran leader Deng Xiaoping sought to avoid a repeat of the chaos that had marked the Mao era and its immediate aftermath.

Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 he has shown a readiness to write his own rules.

But many observers have been alarmed at the prospect of Mr Xi becoming an “emperor for life”, and critics have suggested this could set China’s development back a century.

China employs millions of people to monitor and censor internet activity. So it’s not surprising that overtly critical posts, such as these two, were blocked:

  • “It took over 100 years to overthrow imperialism, and 40 years of reform and opening up, we cannot return to this type of system.” – User ‘Jianyuan Shunshui
  • “One of the reasons why a tenure limit is so valuable and adopted by most countries is that we need fresh blood to maintain the balance of different peoples’ opinions.” – ‘Renzituo 2hao

References to emperors, and 19th Century warlord Yuan Shikai, who notoriously tried to restore monarchy, are also being blocked, after censors clocked on that they were cryptic references to Xi Jinping, such as this one:

  • “Yesterday evening the dream of restoring Yuan Shikai came back to the motherland,” says ‘Zhang Chaoyang‘.

Even posts using the phrase “emigration” have been censored – after several users alleged that there had been a spike in web users searching for “emigration” on search engine Baidu since the announcement was made. (Courtesy BBC)