Why China banned the letter ‘N’

Posted at 7:04 PM, Mar 03, 2018

By Doug Criss, CNN

It’s kind of hard to spell China without the letter “N” (at least in English), but the Chinese had to make do without the letter for a while because it was banned.

Yes, that’s right: The Chinese government banned a letter.

China banned “N” as part of a widespread censorship clampdown that occurred after word got out Sunday that presidential term limits might be dropped, allowingChinese President Xi Jinping possibly to stay in power indefinitely.

The pushback to this development was intense online. So was the government’s pushback to the pushback. In addition to banning use of the letter “N” online, words such as “immortality” and “ascend the throne” were also deemed inappropriate to use on the internet.

Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, said the government likely feared that “N” was referring to the number of terms of office, as in a mathematical equation n > 2.

But the nixing of “N” was a temporary one. By Monday use of the letter online was once again permitted, according to China Digital Times.

Winnie the Pooh, too

But it wasn’t just the alphabet that took a beating from Chinese censors. A beloved, fictional children’s book character was banned online, too. For years memes derisively comparing Xi to the honey-loving bear Winnie the Pooh have circulated on the internet, so Pooh is periodically censored, like the character was Sunday after the term limits announcement, China Digital Times reported.

The rest of the world first heard about this ban in 2013 when the Financial Times reported on it and printed a long-circulated picture showing the bear strolling with his tiger friend, Tigger, next to a photo of Xi walking with his then-US counterpart, Barack Obama, in 2013.

When the image first appeared online, Chinese netizens began posting photos of Xi in, what they considered, similar poses.

They juxtaposed a picture of a frosty handshake between Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the image of Pooh and his gloomy donkey friend, Eeyore.

Next to a photo that showed Xi inspecting troops from an open-top vehicle, they included Pooh standing in a tiny green car.

Their sense of humor is ostensibly not shared by China’s increasingly sophisticated internet czars.