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David Wertime

How To Dodge A 'Ferrari' Embargo: Use English

Learning English in China opens lots of doors, including the door to a less-censored Internet. 

Much has recently been made on the censorship of China’s social media after a deadly Ferrari crash in Beijing over the weekend set China’s Weibo platforms a-twitter. Rumor has it that the illegitimate son of Mr. Jia Qinglin, member of the ultra-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, was behind the wheel. Many news outlets have reported that the word “Ferrari” has been censored on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platforms since the news broke.

Except it hasn’t been. The Chinese word for Ferrari, “法拉利”, is indeed censored; the user is informed that the term cannot be viewed because of “relevant rules and regulations.” But as the below images show, simply inputting the brand’s original, Romanized name, “Ferrari,” yields over 290,000 hits. 

Indeed, netizens who can read and write English (or, it must be noted, Italian) have been discussing the issue with no obstructions, and apparently no fear. On Sina Weibo itself, @李老鸣 wrote in English and without apparent irony: ”Sina deleted all microblog posts which mentioned the accident, and blocked online searches of the word ‘Ferrari.’”

This gap in China’s Internet censorship is large enough to drive a truck containing 292,096 netizens through. Once again, simply using English on Weibo has potent effects.

Did the censors simply miss this obvious work-around? Are they foolish enough to think netizens can’t use the English language to communicate intelligently?

Unlikely. Instead, censors appear to have decided not to worry about the (not so small) minority of netizens savvy enough to read and to seek out English-language sources. China’s government appears to believe these people lie outside the “mainstream” of public opinion, and would likely find a way to get the information they desired anyway. 

So gather ’round, netizens, and say what you will. And keep brushing up on that English vocabulary–it will serve you well. 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
  • rob.w.de

    this is a good example of doublethink: while the government supports a big push to learn english (cf. taxi drivers and university volunteers for the beijing olympics), they still dismiss the english-speaking population of chinese citizens as marginal or unimportant…

    • Dwertime

      It’s certainly ironic. I guess the government wants people to be conversant but think it’s less likely they’ll hop on the Internet and use it to communicate. That’s probably largely true, but only for the time being…obviously the English language skills in China are rising and eventually it will be a very, very large group comfortable using English on line.

  • rob.w.de

    this is a good example of doublethink: while the government supports a big push to learn english (cf. taxi drivers and university volunteers for the beijing olympics), they still dismiss the english-speaking population of chinese citizens as marginal or unimportant…

    • Dwertime

      It’s certainly ironic. I guess the government wants people to be conversant but think it’s less likely they’ll hop on the Internet and use it to communicate. That’s probably largely true, but only for the time being…obviously the English language skills in China are rising and eventually it will be a very, very large group comfortable using English on line.