January 27, 2013
Answer to “strike” unblocking on Sina Weibo?

I’ve been wondering why the word “strike” has suddenly been unblocked on Sina Weibo, and I may have found some leads.

My suspicion was that there may have been some story that was significant to someone, or some organization, within the government that regarding a strike-related story, thereby requiring the keyword to be unblocked. In the past, I’ve called these "party-promoted posts", associated with the unblocking of keywords related to sensitive issues.

I believe I’ve found a candidate story. A few weeks ago in Singapore, around 170 bus drivers, who are Chinese citizens, went on strike (story from BBC). A few who were accused with organizing the strike were forced to stand trial and are facing fines and jail time. Recently, the alleged organizers’ contracts were terminated.

Now that I can search “strike”, I found several posts from the time of the story circulating the story of the Chinese strikers in Singapore on several official news accounts. What’s more interesting is there’s a story on the strikers in The People’s Daily Online (can’t get much more party line than that). A quick search of “strike” in their records shows brings up this story, but, of course, nothing about all the countless other strikes happening in the country recently. There’s literally once sentence mentioning a strike at Foxconn in article that is otherwise unrelated to strikes, and the People’s Daily hasn’t carried recent strikes by sanitation workers in Guangzhou or worker militancy in Shanghai, as I mentioned in my last post.

My guess is that this was an important story politically, not to mention foreign policy relevant as opposed to a domestic story. If I had to place a bet on why the term “strike” has been unblocked, it would be because of diplomatic tensions between Singapore and China. China running the story in a high public position might be a diplomatic gesture of discontent toward Singapore.

Although it’s not nearly of the same scale, this reminds me of the great opening on Sina Weibo during the recent anti-Japan protests. This incident definitely doesn’t have the mass movement behind it like the anti-Japan protests, but it may do the job of tarnishing Singapore’s image.

I only check the term “strike” for fun every couple months, and it has always been blocked. It’s normally my go-to example when I want to show someone a term that is blocked. The term could have been unblocked for many weeks now, but if we consider it a fairly recent incident, this is the best candidate.

The Chinese Digital Times database of blocked keywords shows that the term “strike” has been blocked since the database was first started in April of 2011. They have not recorded a case of unblocking for that particular term.

Whether it will get reblocked is another matter entirely. If I happen to be correct here, it almost seems as if the Sina staff simply neglected to reblock the story - possibly because they weren’t receiving any frantic calls from officials regarding strikes, requesting they silence the issue (something I’ve covered in my recent working paper).

Perhaps if there’s a very large, violent or otherwise significant strike that really causes alarm in coming days, we’ll see it’s reblocking. Other explanations would be more intriguing, but very difficult to determine conclusively, like a shift in the policy of the Propaganda Department, or a sudden campaign by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to highlight worker action. I’ve actually checked the later. While the ACFTU is constantly pumping out news about worker’s issues, I haven’t seen any recent news that convinces me of what would be a very surprising move.

Please let me know if you have any insights! Thanks!

**UPDATE**

Thanks to China microblog-watcher William Farris for letting us know that by his record, “strike” was still blocked on January 6th, the same day as the BBC story. 

That’s really great to know. There’s still a large unknown space of a few weeks to look at, and I was thinking the unblocking might have coincided with the release of a more official story, like the People’s Daily story on January 24th.

I still haven’t done a detailed account of all the stories released on this issue. That will take some leg work, but perhaps I’ll be able to pursue it soon.

Be sure to check out the Google+ account of William Farris. His blogging on microblogs, especially their censorship, is easily some of the best I’ve seen!

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