China Briefly Decided The Letter ‘N’ Was Not OK. Here’s The Weird Reason Why

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

Chinese censors briefly banned the letter “N” to combat subversive behavior and defend the Chinese president from criticisms online.

The Chinese Communist Party proposed Sunday to abolish the two-term limit for the Chinese president in a move that the many critics called a push toward greater authoritarianism. The proposal prompted a significant backlash at home and abroad on social media, and Chinese censors went into overdrive to seize control of the discussion.

Terms like “life-long rule,” “long live the emperor,” and even the common phrase “I disagree” took a hit in the resulting crackdown. In some cases, words and phrases that sounded like unacceptable expressions were also targeted, such as “boarding a plane,” which sounds a lot like “ascending the throne” in Chinese, according to the Financial Times.

Probably the weirdest ban, though, was the letter “N,” the China Digital Times revealed on Twitter.

A senior editor at CDT decided to give it a try and found that the letter was deemed “illegal” content.

This may seem like an odd thing for the censors to target, but in China, the letter “N” represents unknown numerical values. It is often used as a substitute for infinity. Another term that was blocked was “indefinite control.”

Censors also cracked down on images on Winnie the Pooh, a beloved fictional character that many internet users believes bears a striking resemblance to the Chinese president.

The ban on the letter “N” has since been lifted.

“I doubt that they actually put that much thought into it, so sadly, the letter ‘N’ was a temporary victim of this rash decision,” the co-founder of an organization dedicated to tracking and skirting Chinese censors revealed to the Guardian.

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China’s state-backed Global Times condemned Western “hysteria” over the Communist Party’s decision to abolish term limits, as well as reports expressing concern over Chinese censorship practices.

“The biggest reason for all this is that the rise of China has reached a critical point where some Westerners cannot psychologically bear it any longer,” the nationalist publication argued. “They wish to see misfortune befall the country. Even if it might hurt their own interests, they are willing to see China crumble first.”

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