After rumors about military police entering Beijing and reports about the sound of gunfire began percolating on China’s effervescent social network, Sina Weibo, a number of the terms were immediately clamped down upon.
“‘Chang’an avenue’ and ‘gunshot’ have already been filtered on Weibo,” writes one user at 7:00 pm Beijing local time on March 20.
Others were simply testing out the censorship system, writing one-word posts with “gunshot,” presumably to see if they would be blocked.
The authorities are not directly preventing those terms from being posted to Weibo, but searches for the terms are blocked—a common and less intrusive method of censorship.
Rumors that there was a possible coup d’etat afoot emerged during the night of March 19 Beijing time, continuing through the morning and into the day on March 20. Discussion is still bouncing around, while netizens come up with ways to avoid being censored.
Bo Xilai, one of the key protagonists in the factional warfare who was recently removed from his seat as Party-chief of Chongqing, is referred to by netizens simply as “B.”
On midday March 20, one user wrote that Chang’an avenue had been blockaded, and that cars with license plates from outside the city were everywhere. Another user expressed annoyance that, when he went to buy tickets, apparently for a sporting event, there were masses of police on Chang’an avenue. The netizen used an expletive to show he was emphatic.
Others exclaimed that “a major political event happened in Beijing last night!” and claimed personal knowledge of a “big meeting” called by the Central Military Commission, the Communist Party organ that oversees the armed forces.
Such postings are difficult to verify, but one netizen thought he’d give it a try. “Why don’t I just drive down to Chang’an avenue and take a look at what the heck is going on that everyone is talking about?”
Weibo messages on the subject “北京出事了” in the original Chinese are now censored. This was a major meme around the coup rumor, translating roughly as, “something important yet problematic happened in Beijing.”