‘Sensitive terms’ and sensitive celebrations

Saturday, Apr 03, 2010, Page 8

In China, “democracy,” “democratic parties,” “June 4” and even “6.4” are labeled “sensitive terms.” A massive Internet review system automatically replaces such terms with the words “sensitive term,” making it sometimes impossible to post certain phrases. For example, it would likely be impossible to say, “China’s economy has grown by 6.4 percent.”

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) chatted with Internet users during an interview on the Chinese government’s official Web site and the Xinhua news agency’s Web site on Feb. 27, he said: “Only in a democracy is political order guaranteed even if there is a leadership change.”

On some Web sites, this was changed to “only in a sensitive term is political order guaranteed even if there is a leadership change.”

I had always thought that this was a strictly Chinese phenomenon, but to my surprise, sensitive terms also exist in free and democratic Taiwan.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration consider the words “nation’s founding” in the phrase “the 100th anniversary of the nation’s founding” (建國一百年) one such sensitive term, and it was therefore changed to “100 years of excellence” (精彩一百年) in connection to the centennial celebration of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC).

In fact, in its dealings with China, the administration has begun to check its own language to define a set of sensitive terms and topics, such as “president,” “Tibet” and “Taiwan is an independent and sovereign state.”

There are also other examples. The head of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait addressed Ma as “Mr Ma,” while the government has gone even further by not issuing entry visas to people who are not welcome in China, such as the Dalai Lama and World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer.

In the past, Ma often talked about the June 4 movement and freedom and human rights in Tibet, but that stopped after he became president; instead, he has praised China’s human rights record.

It seems these issues have also been labeled “sensitive terms” as the government synchronizes its stance with that of China’s. If this continues, maybe “democracy” will be next on the list of sensitive terms. And when the list gets too long, maybe they’ll just replace such words with the phrase “sensitive term.”

If statements by the Taiwanese government were only filtered out on Web sites in China, there would be no problem.

However, if the government begins to censor itself, then the freedom, democracy and human rights the Taiwanese have fought so hard and so long for will have been all but destroyed.

Taiwan is a democratic example to all Chinese around the world. Regardless of complaints about Taiwan’s political chaos, Taiwan, is undeniably a democracy. The more Taiwan insists on its independence, the deeper the understanding of the value of democracy among Chinese around the world.

Lately, China has increased pressure on Hong Kong, its showcase for the “one country, two systems” model. Taiwan’s persistence will strengthen the efforts of Hong Kong’s democracy activists.

Chances are that China will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty, but the ROC government must emphatically not sacrifice the nation’s sovereignty just because it wants China’s economy to save Taiwan.

The 100th anniversary of the nation’s founding must not be allowed to become the “100th anniversary of the sensitive term.”

By Hsu Chien-jung 許建榮

Hsu Chien-jung is a doctoral candidate at Monash University in Australia.


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