The Trouble With Carrots

Perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of China’s comeback on Google today, as Chinese netizens have discovered that simple search terms like “carrots” and “temperature” are not loading on Google, though they still work on Baidu. Why? These words share characters with the names of top Chinese leaders like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

Writers Chang Ping and Michael Anti have both reported about the phenomenon on their Twitter accounts, and it seems to be spreading. As of about an hour ago, here are the hottest search terms on Google.cn (i.e., Google.com.hk in simplified Chinese):

  1. Carrot [contains a character from Hu Jintao’s name]
  2. Radish [same as the word for carrot but without the character from Hu Jintao’s name]
  3. Temperature [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
  4. Warmth [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
  5. Zhou [a common surname]
  6. Nonsense; drivel [contains a character from Hu Jintao’s name]
  7. Study
  8. Carrot [with a small typo, otherwise same as #1]
  9. Death 397 [an anime thing, apparently]
  10. Review [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
  11. Warm Water [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
  12. Ten dollars is more honest [the title of a recent Han Han blog post]
  13. Hu [as in, Hu Jintao’s family name]
  14. Han Han Ten dollars is more honest [see above]
  15. Talk nonsense [contains a character from Hu Jintao’s name]

The list goes on, including such terms as “beard”, “erhu [a classical musical instrument]”, “warm”, “thermometer”, etc — all terms that involve a characters that also appear in the names of major heads in the Chinese government.

Of course, nearly everyone commenting on this story has called it ridiculous — Chang Ping wonders whether the censors were laughing as they blocked these keywords — and more than a few have pointed out it’s pretty reminiscent of the Naming taboo tradition from imperial China, which stipulated that people could not use characters that were used in the Emperor’s name or the names of his close family members. This sometimes involved actually changing the names of regular things — the first month of the lunar calendar was renamed “Duan” from “Zheng” to avoid any similarity to the given name (Zheng) of the first emperor of Qin.

So, will “carrots” have to be renamed? Is this the first step down the road towards Hu declaring himself emperor? Or is it just a hilarious “fuck you” from China to Google in return for all the bad press they’re getting this week? It’s probably the latter; after all, “the Hu Dynasty” doesn’t have a great ring to it anyway.



33 Comments

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  1. S

    I agree that this is a temperory F**K You to Google…I don’t think it will last long.

    • Jay (a different one)

      or maybe a temporary f**k-up by Google? key word temporary — searching for 红萝卜 from China produces some 1.8 million links about 红萝卜 — very informative.
      When is this non-topic going to (stop) get the attention that it deserves? More shocking news: I am not having carrots for dinner tonight (salad and pork chop instead) due to the shocking GFW policies blah blah blah. Call CNN…! Mobilize the fleet…! Or maybe I just didn’t feel like carrots tonight. Really…

      • Look at the image I posted (or even just read the Engligh). The term that is (was?) blocked is 胡萝卜, not 红萝卜, and obviously it is only blocked within mainland China, so if you’re searching from outside China you will not find your connection getting reset.

        红萝卜 doesn’t share any characters with the names of high-level officials like Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao, why would you think it would be blocked?

        • Jay (a different one)

          I would not think it would be blocked.
          I tried ‘红萝卜’ because it is Friday evening, I didn’t have carrots for dinner and maybe I’m just not that sharp. When I try ‘胡萝卜’, I get about 9.2 million links (that’s from Jiangsu w/o VPN or whatever), so now I know everything about ‘Daucus carrot’ (who would have known?) and should be able to sleep well with all this new knowledge:)

          • Jay (a different one)

            Okay, now I am getting worried. While I was willing to believe that the intermittent blocking of ‘胡萝卜’ on Google was just that, to piss-off Google, and why wouldn’t you, my new-found obsession with ‘胡萝卜’ (thankyou Mr Custer, as if I didn’t have enough problems of my own) has me looking at carrots whenever I buy food. And the shocking discovery I made is that ALL carrots sold here are ‘胡萝卜’ and not any other variety. I’m pretty sure there used to be other types of carrots, but they’ve all disappeared. Even worse, all of a sudden, there are 10kg bags of chopped ‘胡萝卜’ for sale. 10kg!!! Nobody can have eyesight that bad, can they? I’m stocking up on candles, bottled water and al-foil now, before it is too late! ‘胡萝卜’ aaaahhhhh!!!!!

  2. Bill Rich

    You are not suppose to search for obscene or pornographic terms !!! Chinese government is right to filter out anything that contain obscene or pornographic language. Anything that contains Hu and Wen, obscenities both, must be banned.

  3. Terry

    umm.. carrots (hongluobo) … leading to warm waters… dunno Custer… may have to censor your pornographic reporting here ;)

  4. Bai Ren

    Do you mean to say that this is a conscious attempt on the behalf of Google to help ‘dui meinzi’ ‘gain face’ after their sudden departure?

    I ask how sophisticated is the mainland’s censoring? I went to http://www.google.cn got reidrected towards their HK site, and searched for “红萝卜” “carrot” got more than a million point teo sites. Is this because I am not in China? Is this because Google’s own censoring changes due to the global position of my ip address, or is the CCP makeing Google look a little bit worse within Google?
    Who is getting blocked on G searches for “红萝卜”? or an I just some silly white man using the wrong key ‘character’ search to come across this censorship?

  5. I’m not quite sure I see it as an effective FU to Google; more an embarrassment for the Chinese government that their tech people are not able to block terms more precisely.
    Perhaps they think that the use of obtuse coding will lend credence to the fact they didn’t have the ability to hack Google in the first place!

  6. Funny.

    Last year I did a post about the famous Charter 09 where I said it should have been given a popular name such as 王 (Wang). This is exactly what I meant, you cannot censor common characters like Wang, Hu or Wen because they are part of many normal words.

    Well, now I see that you can in fact, if you are as retarded as the GFW geniuses.

    • Inst

      Like I mentioned below, you can search Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao on Yahoo and other services. I’m sure they could use more sophisticated censorship methods; they could set up a system by which each filter system contains a full copy of Charter 09 and when a search result contains more than a specified number of words, it’s blocked, but it’s pretty convoluted and probably resource intensive.

      • Sure, they can always block a defined text like charter 09, it is super easy to do that and I obviously considered this point in my old Wang theories.

        But the point was about posts that mention the charter, not about the charter itself. There were many blogs that just spoke about it without copying it, and they got all harmonized at the time, with a huge impact on the public awareness of the initiative.

  7. Inst

    I checked Yahoo on this; it looks as though it IS Google specific, not that by moving their stuff outside the GFW another layer of filters activate.

    It’s pretty immature on the Chinese government’s part; if they really wanted to hurt Google, they could just get freelance hacker teams to steal Google’s search engine code and leak it onto the Internet. That’s pretty much akin to an act of war, however. I think a more proportional response would be to encourage cell-phone makers to pirate Google’s Android OS, which while open-source, contains Google closed-source apps from which Google derives licensing revenues. If Google wants to enforce their IP protection on that, they’d have to make nice to the Chinese government, although I’m not sure how many of the shanzhai Windows Mobile phones pay licensing fees.

    • Inst

      http://androidandme.com/2009/11/uncategorized/google-changes-direction-with-android-open-source-project/

      If the Chinese want to score points they can probably hack full Android source off Google servers or just task some people at their intelligence ministry to back-engineer it. Then when some honkers nominally unaffiliated with the government release the source code I’m sure the open source movement will be delighted by this war in heaven.

      • Inst

        Although, I’m not sure whether that would work as well, the OS movement would be happy, since they’re apparently peeved at Google locking down parts of their Android source code, but MSM would be less tolerant and it would still be an escalation. It would probably be best if they just leaked it internally for Chinese shanzhai manufacturers; it wouldn’t get into the international press, but it would hurt Google’s Chinese market share and get Western cell-phone manufacturers to pressure Google into not killing their competitive advantage.

  8. @Custer and all.

    As you know, I like wasting my time doing GFW tests a lot, and I have been doing them for many months.

    One of the things I have learnt is that the behaviour of the RC triggers (the URL based reset connections you are seeing here) is very unstable. Unlike the internal manipulation of Google.cn, which was solid, here you can find very often that some term is blocked and 30 minutes later unblocked. It was actually quite annoying to get conclusive results, and I wonder if the GFW doesn’t do it on purpose, to make it difficult for someone to prove that their site was blocked…

    I say all this because the terms 胡 and some others you mention, or even 胡锦涛 in full, is working just fine now from my connection in Shanghai. But I now that you guys are not dreaming, because I observed also 2 days ago that 胡锦涛 was RCd, and I even wrote it on the Mini-me as a new development (it used to be open before)

    BTW, if you want a good RC trigger that always works for comparisons try my old blog address string “chinayouren.com/eng”. If you are in the mainland this baby gives you RC guaranteed.

  9. pug_ster

    I supposed that this is not surprising. I mean that US govt is giving incentives for people who can penetrate the GFW. Except for Julen, do most Chinese Netizens search for these meaningless terms in google?

    • Honestly, does anyone read the posts before commenting anymore? THIS WHOLE POST IS ABOUT HOW THE MOST-SEARCHED-FOR ITEMS ON GOOGLE.CN ARE THESE “MEANINGLESS TERMS”.

      Now, once the fun of seeing this is over, you’re right that Zhang Ziyi will probably be a more common search term than “carrot”; but the point is there are a lot of legitimate things someone could search for that would involve “胡”,“温“, etc. Maybe not “carrot”, but what about searching for one of the millions of people in China named “胡”?

      • your right,

        here is my 50c (hahhahahahaha)

        the Carrot or Stick approach

        you tell me comrades!

      • Custer, believe it or not I do read you!

        You mentioned that those terms don’t work on Google (outside GFW) and they work on Baidu (inside GFW). The only reason why this may be happening is because the characters are GFWd.

        I don’t doubt the veracity of this information. All I say is that it is most probably a temporary glitch of the GFW. They are not so stupid to keep the word carrot blocked, LOL!

  10. Colonel,

    the most searched right now is,

    “south korean navy ship on fire!”

    come people, let busy,

    move! move! move!

    马上写博客!

  11. lolz

    Interesting post.

    Ya I think the GFW is unstable, either that or it has limited filtering capabilities and can only handle certain amount of key words to be filtered at a time. So you always get people tweaking the filtering engine depending on the news events.

  12. asdf

    American paranoia will next claim that the GFW will become Skynet, and must be destroyed.

    • friendo

      Now that the invasion of Georgia by Putin has been averted, and the innocent babes of Atlanta can sleep in peace, yes.

  13. Josh

    Maybe this phenomenon has already passed? I’m in Suzhou and just successfully searched the terms 胡萝卜 and 温度 from google.com.hk without issue.

    However, a few minutes later, I tried searching 胡子 and was successful but upon searching 二胡 i was insta-blocked for about a minute.

    Also, the screenshot you posted doesn’t show up for me.

  14. Bai Ren

    According to Rebecca Mackinnon most internet firms working in China assert their own interpretations on how to censor. Were google users in HK who key word search these terms in simplified chinese blocked? Might this not be a ploy of Google to slippery slope China’s sandcrab policies? http://books.google.ca/books?id=gX0Q7Xd-2LkC&pg=PA84&dq=%22human+right%22%2B+%22access+to+the+internet%22%2B+%22china%22&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  15. Inst

    and… oh shit

    The GFW just killed Google. Try a Google search in your locale and see if it works out. This is an unexpected escalation of what could otherwise be a small affair…

  16. J.P.

    Well, it is worth celebrating. Chinese Gov finally try to declare its monarchy after 60 years of covering up by its so called ‘Communism’,’Republic’. Be frank is good. More ridiculous incidents will be exposed in recent future,I believe. This is just a start.

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