Rice Bunny: Censorship And #MeToo In China

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Pixel Bunny, Digital, 150x100 pixels. (u/Qyzyz)
Pixel Bunny, Digital, 150x100 pixels. (u/Qyzyz)

This week we're going to talk about government censorship in China, #metoo and cryptocurrency. It's a lot. You ready? Let's go.

Rice Bunny

As you might know, translating from a language like Mandarin to English is not as simple as say, French to English, especially when it comes to names. Ben, for example, took a Mandarin class and the teacher gave him the name "Jiang Pin Sun" because it sounds kind of like "Ben Johnson."

This idea, of phonetic translation, brings us to... Rice Bunny. If you translate the English words "rice" and "bunny" into Chinese, you get something that kind of sounds like "me too." And if you've been an adult on the internet recently, you're pretty familiar with what "Me Too" means.

In China, though, the hashtag #metoo is censored; posts containing it are deleted and wiped out forever by government censors. So activists and supporters, who are constantly trying to keep the movement alive, have started using the words for rice and bunny, or the emoji of a a rice bowl and a rabbit. ??.

Peking University

Echo Huang is a reporter for Quartz based in Hong Kong. She covers technology and social media in China. She was on WeChat — a hugely popular social media app in China that's like Venmo, Grubhub, Fandango and instant messaging all in one — and she found something interesting.

"I saw a lot of people posting an open letter from a girl who claimed to be from Peking University," Echo says. The letter detailed a petition that this Peking University student had sent to the school. The petition asked for more information about a campus sexual assault case from two decades ago. "She encountered a bit of difficulties and harassment during her effort to ask the school for more transparency," says Huang.

This student, a senior at Peking University named Yue Xin, was trying to get information about this case, from 1998. A sophomore at the school named Gao Yan committed suicide, and before she did, she told a friend that she had been harassed and assaulted by a literature professor there. But according to Gao and her friend, the school's response was to sweep it under the rug and give the professor a slap on the wrist.

Gao's friend, inspired by the Me Too movement in the U.S., called for the university to re-open its investigation. She named the professor, Shen Yang, whose most recent position was at Nanjing University, as the dean of the literature department.

Yue Xin and other students weren't satisfied with Peking University's response to her petition.  The school basically said, "This is old news, we already dealt with this." According to an open letter Yue posted online, she started getting harassed by faculty at the school.

"Yue said that one school counselor [...] came to knock on her dormitory on the late night of April 22," says Huang. The school even brought Yue's mom to her room to pressure her to drop the issue. They told her that, if she didn't, she may not be able to graduate.

'We've Been Through This So Many Times' 

Brian, aka u/ZeroWolf547, also read about this story on WeChat. He lives in Australia, but emigrated from China. The story made him angry and frustrated.

"It's just we've been through this so many times. There's news of somebody doing something that's damaging to the reputation of a prestigious institution or just anything that might snowball into a bigger student movement," he says.

He posts about it on Reddit:

Brian obviously wasn't the only person mad about this. Others in China were trying to spread the news, only to have it deleted by government censors.

"You have to be fast," says Huang. "You have to beat the censorship... authorities will be very quick to take them down."

Enter Cryptocurrency

Not wanting this story to completely disappear, some activists turned to an alternate technology: blockchain.

Redditor /u/cryptotrader2125 explains how blockchain works.

"Blockchain really emerged with Bitcoin in 2009. And Bitcoin was a way of transferring wealth outside of the government or any centralized institutions, whether it be banks or corporate entities, and transferring money peer-to-peer. And it was revolutionary because it was very difficult, if not impossible, to do that before. And the technology underlying that is blockchain — the shared database that's maintained by all the people that are using the network. And it really gives people a stake in the network itself," he says.

Because the blockchain is controlled in a decentralized way, it's harder to censor information that gets attached to the network.

So someone put Yue Xin's messages on the Ethereum blockchain.

Yes, it's still pretty inaccessible for most people. But it's still out there. Who knows what technology in the future will look like?


Reporter Echo Huang says that she hasn't been able to get in touch with Yue Xin, though there are reports that she's back at school, trying to finish her senior year.

Shen Yang has been fired from Nanjing University, even if Peking University still hasn't come clean about what actually happened in 1998.

Thanks to u/Qyzyz for this week's art. You can find him on Twitter @ExcelTL.

We're on Twitter at @endless_thread and on Reddit as /u/endless_thread. Subscribe to the podcast with Apple PodcastsStitcherRadioPublic or RSS.

Headshot of Meghan B. Kelly

Meghan B. Kelly Multi-platform Editor
Meghan is the multi-platform editor for WBUR.



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