China

Forbidden Vocabulary – How China Censors Taiwan and Hong Kong-related Words

According to Taiwanese media reports, China’s Xinhua News Agency released a list of “forbidden words” related to Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. Although recent reports have brought this topic to the attention of the Taiwanese public, an article listing Xinhua’s guidelines had already appeared in November 2015 on China‘s state-owned website People’s Daily.
The “forbidden words on Xinhua News Agency’s news reports” (新華社新聞報道中的禁用詞) are divided up into 5 sections, the fourth of which is entitled: “Forbidden words touching upon our national territory, sovereignty, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan”. 

(Image: Time3000)

The guidelines state:


1 – ‘Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions of China (中國的特別行政區), Taiwan is a Province of China (中國的一個省). Special attention must be paid to avoiding the use of the word “country” in any article, map or chart referring to them’.

2 – Whenever it is not possible to avoid words related to Taiwan’s authorities and political system, ‘they shall be enclosed in quotation marks. For example: “Legislative Yuan“, “Executive Yuan“, “Control Yuan“, “Election Commission“, “Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics of the Executive Yuan” etc. Terms such as “Central” (中央), “National” (國立), “Chinese Taipei” (中華台北) should be omitted’. Names like Tsinghua University and National Palace Museum must also be placed in quotation marks. The guidelines strictly forbid the use of the term “President of the Republic of China” (中華民國總統), who must instead be called “Leader of the Taiwan area” (台灣地區領導人). 

3 – Taiwan’s legal system must be called ‘Regulations related to the Taiwan area’ (台灣地區的有關規定). 

4 – ‘Don’t use the term 兩岸三地’ (literally: “cross-strait three territories”, often used for “China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau”). 

5 – The sentence “Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwanese tourists travel to China” is considered wrong. The correct version is: “Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwanese tourists travel to the mainland (or the inland) (港澳台游客來大陸(或:內地)旅游).
6 – ‘The terms “Taiwan and the mainland” (台灣”與“祖國大陸(或‘大陸’)) and “Hong Kong/Macau and the inland” should not be confused’. 

7 – When referring to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, the terms “Sino-Taiwanese”, “Sino-Hong Kong” etc. cannot be used. Instead, one must write “mainland and Taiwan”, “inland and Hong Kong”, or use the names of one of the three areas combined with a city on the mainland (e.g. “Shanghai-Hong Kong”). 

8 – The words “Taiwanese independence” (台灣獨立/台獨) must be placed in quotations marks. 

9 – The names of Taiwanese organisations that include the word “China” must be placed in quotation marks, for example the “Chinese Daoist Union”. 

10 – The name “Formosa” (福摩薩) for Taiwan cannot be used, and if it is used, only in quotation marks. 

11 – The Nansha Islands (南沙群島) cannot be called Spratly Islands.
12 – The Diaoyu Islands (釣魚島) cannot be called Senkaku Islands. 

13 – ‘It is strictly forbidden to call Xinjiang “East Turkestan”‘.  


For the government in Beijing, words are an important political tool, a core element of state ideology. For the Communist Party, Taiwan and Hong Kong are not just places, but symbols of state-promoted nationalism. And as such, it is not reality that matters, but how reality can be constructed through the lexicon of ideology.


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