In 2004, the Chinese Communist Party announced a new national goal of building a “Harmonious Society.” Since then, this goal has often been cited by the Chinese government as a reason for Internet censorship. In Mandarin, the word “Harmonious” is pronounced héxié (the accent marks here indicate rising tones). However, by changing the tones slightly to héxiè (a rising tone followed by a falling tone) the word changes from harmonious to “river crab” – which has become Internet slang for government censor. So when something suddenly disappears from the Internet in China, people often joke that it has been “river-crabbed.”
Although river-crabbing does not happen here in the United States, last week a federal judge had to address a related problem: Does the First Amendment allow Baidu.com (China’s version of Google) to censor political speech from its search results for users here in the United States?