Saunders: Why the Chinese government censored the letter 'N' from web searches for the entire nation

Saunders: Why the Chinese government censored the letter ‘N’ from web searches for the entire nation

Opinion

For a while on Monday, the letter N was banned on the internet in China. Authorities blocked this single Roman character from social media, informed observers reported, because so many people were sending one another equations, such as “n > 2,” to complain about the proposal by the Communist Party’s Central Committee to eliminate the two-term limit for presidents. This appears intended to turn Xi Jinping, who has held that office since 2012, into a permanent ruler.

VIDEO: Bloomberg chronicles how Xi JinPing went from shovelling pig crap to the most powerful in China


To outsiders, the shift from giving Mr. Xi 10 years of power to giving him limitless power might seem academic – after all, Beijing remains a single-party authoritarian regime in either case. Within China, the difference is starkly evident. Just look at some of the other suddenly-popular words and phrases currently reported blocked from China’s social media: “long live the emperor,” “personality cult” and “1984.”

Mr. Xi is not alone in eliminating term limits and transforming himself into a potential ruler-for-life. It’s the thing to do these days: Vladimir Putin engineered just such a change in Russia, as did Recep Tayyip Erdogan, effectively, in Turkey. But it means something different in China.

When he came to power in 2012, Mr. Xi inherited a Communist Party that, after Deng Xiaoping ended the personality cult of Mao Zedong in 1978, had operated through a system of stable institutions and departments that ran things with an impersonal, often faceless, authority. Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, had been the quintessence of this system, generally speaking in bland platitudes and delegating everything. Chinese generally saw the party offices in their lives, and not the man who controlled them.

Mr. Xi burst into office on a mission to change that. He took control of the military, the government and the party, and soon launched missives in the media urging everyone to wage a “war against formalism and bureaucracy.” At first, this meant a big crackdown on corruption, which was rife in the senior bureaucracy with its officials filling Beijing’s ring roads with gold-plated Ferraris. But it also meant a systematic dismantling of the law-and-order institutions and professional civil-service branches that had guaranteed stability and kept a distance from the ruler.

This article continues at [Globe and Mail] Why Xi Jinping’s cult of personality is more dangerous than it looks

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