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):
- Carrot [contains a character from Hu Jintao’s name]
- Radish [same as the word for carrot but without the character from Hu Jintao’s name]
- Temperature [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
- Warmth [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
- Zhou [a common surname]
- Nonsense; drivel [contains a character from Hu Jintao’s name]
- Carrot [with a small typo, otherwise same as #1]
- Death 397 [an anime thing, apparently]
- Review [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
- Warm Water [contains a character from Wen Jiabao’s name]
- Ten dollars is more honest [the title of a recent Han Han blog post]
- Hu [as in, Hu Jintao’s family name]
- Han Han Ten dollars is more honest [see above]
- 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.