Beheading Freedom

Poor Chinese gamers. Between the censorship, the prejudices, and the weird boot camps, they’ve never had it easy. The latest blow? A fresh helping of censorship just in time for the (long overdue) release of World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King official release in China (elsewhere, it has been out for a long time).

We first heard from Corndog–the man who made this incredible anti-censorship bit of machinima–that WoW players were logging into WotLK and discovering that certain terms were now “sensitive words” and could no longer be used inside the game. According to this WoW fan site (our translation):

Players overjoyed at the release of the expansion quickly discovered that words like “freedom”, “sexy”, and “passion” were no longer allowed in-game, and players whose account names included these characters were being forced to change their names.

This phenomenon has left many players perplexed, and some are calling for a boycott of the game until the terms are permitted again.

Supposedly, Netease is working to find the “cause” of this, and will promptly fix it when they find it. Whether that’s true or not, the whole thing certainly is perplexing. “Sexy” and “passionate”, perhaps, could be the result of an overzealous censor getting hyped about the “three vulgarities” campaign that’s ramping up. But freedom? Really?

Not to be outdone by censors, Chinese netizens had come up with a solution within hours that is both serviceable and symbolic. They took the word for freedom (自由 zìyóu) and “beheaded” both characters, resulting in a new coinage: 目田 (mùtián).

The brilliance of this is that the characters themselves are a reflection of the ridiculous, neutering censorship policy. They are a visual expression of gamers’ perceptions that censorship has left their experience as something less than whole. At the same time, just like earlier internet slang terms, it allows people to keep using the word “freedom” without actually setting off the automatic filter that blocks the two character term 自由 zìyóu. 目田 Mùtián is not an actual word in Chinese, so there’s not much confusion about what anyone means when they type it. And both characters have existed for millennia, so the new term is as easy to type as any other Chinese word. ((Chinese net users do, on occasion, invent entirely new characters, but they can’t be typed as they aren’t included in the character sets that come with computers.))

It will be interesting to see if Netease ultimately changes anything. It’s hard to believe that a bug could result in such selective censorship; the real question is whether Netease will back down or hide behind their own incompetence by claiming they can’t find the “bug”. A third, infinitely less likely possibility is that they could directly finger the government. Recently, a number of foreign and domestic companies have complained or commented about what censorship policies cost them from a financial perspective. But it’s hard to believe the central government would tell Netease to ban the word freedom.

My guess is it’s another example of Blizzard’s domestic partner’s getting overexcited and censoring more than they are told to.

We’ll update if/when anything actually changes. Until then, long live 目田 Mùtián!

0 thoughts on “Beheading Freedom”

  1. >pug_ster

    “Wammbulance” sounds like a word used by hard core right wingers (a.k.a.rednecks). You should stop reading the garbage they write…no wonder you’ve become so radicalized 😉


  2. By the way, when I google.commed “目田” I got 153,000 hits for the Japanese (place name?), but when I used advanced tools to restrict the search to simplified Chinese I got 5,780,000 hits. Wtf?!?!


  3. @ Some Guy: Chinese netizens work fast. Although a lot of those might have been something like “…目,田…” I saw a fair amount of that when I did that search last night.

    @ pug_ster: And if this blog was intended to reflect the opinions of “most Chinese” on everything, I would care about that.


  4. *Puts on tinfoil hat*

    Maybe it’s someone working inside Netease to intensify the antagonism between the government and some of the users over the issue of censorship? So they can benefit from the resulting chaos?

    Just throwing that out there.


  5. If they were so conscious of the relationship between the user and the government, as you suggest, wouldn’t that be a reason to not engage in censorship at all?

    Or maybe you’re merely expounding on what you perceive as a ridiculous conspiracy theory and suggesting that netease employees have better things to do than engage in self destructive measures? Unfortunately, I don’t think they view the resulting 和谐 as being too self destructive and that this bug will be diligently searched for until such time that everyone forgets about it.


  6. @C Custer…

    If I make a Wow Character called ‘C Custer is an idiot’ and my character got censored, maybe I should get uppidity also.


  7. I was addicted to WoWcrack many years ago when it first came out. Fortunately due to changing jobs, I had to hop around hotels with bad,bad internet connections and simply couldn’t participate in these 10 hour uber raids without screwing up everyone. My friends who stayed with the game have lost or stalled in their jobs, broken up with their girlfriends, and became fat.

    So while I think censorship, and especially in games is lame, it maybe good for everyone that Chinese don’t get to play WoW. Plus, don’t the rest of the world always complain about Chinese Gold Farmers anyway?


  8. Custer,
    gotta ask, are you emphasizing the censorship of ‘freedom’ because it has been creatively side stepped and shows the influence of politics business and the internet on language, or is it just cause ‘freedom’ is sexy?
    I would love to see a chinasmack-esk article on the gamers reactions to not being able to use these words. Was their usage common before, part of communicating the experience of game play? Also while its noted that maybe this is just the domestic partner getting too ‘over excited’ about censorship, are they following some trend, ie to make the online gameplay experience more kid friendly -a goal of movie censorship.

    on a totally separate note iv gotten word that real name registration for mobile phones has started up in China, have you got the low down on that story yet?


  9. @ Bai Ren: I’m emphasizing the censorship of freedom because it’s what Chinese netizens are talking about. There are over 12,000 censored terms, but most of them have to do with sex and are quite vulgar, so it’s understandable for a game with children to censor them. But “freedom” is a different story, no?

    That word in particular was probably in pretty common use in the same. It’s a social game, after all. And aside from the word “freedom”, the term 自由 also appears in some Chinese expressions like 自由自在 that are fairly common (and innocuous) in everyday conversation. If I come across a good thread, I might do a chinaSMACK-esque post, but I fear it would be sort of boring…everyone saying the same thing.

    As for the real name registration for mobile phones, uh…yup, that happened. That’s pretty much all there is to that story, you need to provide ID now to buy a SIM card, and corner shops and newsstands aren’t allowed to sell them until they’ve been trained in how to properly check IDs.


  10. The WoW scene is pretty much dead in China. Bludgeoned to death by all kinds of regulations and ‘cultural sensibilities’ that strangely don’t apply to other MMOs. People have been trying to hop on private/Taiwan servers but most have quit. It’s pretty much what the government wanted, except the part where the vacuum was supposed to be filled by a domestically produced game.


  11. China gamers really have a hard time with that Censorship nonsense, I planned to go to China before, but since I heard all kinds of weird things about China… I don`t want to go anymore, and Censorship is not the biggest problem in China. There are tons of problems and the governments is good to block everything but not very good at finding the solutions to solve problems.


  12. I just hope they (Blizzard and the Chinese government) will find a solution to release Diablo 3 on time so the Chinese gamers can have it at the same time as the rest of the world, but once again I think I am dreaming…


  13. @Jianghua

    If you haven’t gone yet, don’t believe everything you hear. Wait until you’re there, so you can objectively form your own opinions.


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