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Jessica Levine

Meme Watch: There Xi Is!

Via Weibo

A chapter in the strange saga of China’s missing leader-to-be recently drew to a close. 

After a still-unexplained two-week absence from public view, Xi Jinping, the Heir Apparent due to succeed President Hu Jintao next spring, was photographed on Saturday by Xinhua News Agency on the campus of China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Wearing a windbreaker and a grin despite rumors of poor health, Xi’s innocuous return to the grand stage comes amidst country-wide and reportedly violent protests over a land dispute with neighbor Japan—chaos unwelcome by a government banking on stability and delicacy in the months leading to Xi’s accession to power.

Via Weibo

Piqued by his sudden absence and reemergence, netizens are tracking Xi’s situation closely despite blocks on such coded terms as “Crown Prince” (太子) and “XJP.” Granted, Tea Leaf Nation’s Rachel cited the use of wordplay as a means of circumventing such censorship: “Where is She,” a textual meme spinning the pronunciation of Xi’s surname, recently yielded around 123,000 hits on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. 

Chinese, of course, is a language that is perhaps uniquely equipped to generate the types of puns and wordplays so effective in evading censors. Weibo user @吊民伐罪 tweeted a sort of latter-day “Who’s on First,” writing: “Where is Xi? Who? Not Hu, I mean Xi. Who is She? Hu is not Xi. iPhone 5 appears, but She disappears.”

@大藏布 posted a graphic (above left) of the Xi text twist; @布赫特大大, meanwhile, captioned a remixed photo of Xi with “Got any idea where She is?” 

As Xi works his way to Zhongnanhai (中南海) in the capitol, we will be sure to keep you posted. 

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Jessica Levine

Jessica Levine is a Johns Hopkins University graduate student with an emphasis in digital communication. Based in Michigan, her research focuses on the social and political implications of China’s Internet.