In the latest bout of oddness to come over the Chinese Internet’s notoriously strict censorship, searches for terms related to live organ harvesting have recently been unblocked on several major Internet portals.
Specifically, the terms “live harvest,” “bloody harvest” and “Wang Lijun live harvest” were all recently permitted searches on Sina Weibo, the most popular microblogging platform, and Baidu, the most popular search engine. Some of the terms were still searchable as of the evening of March 25 10 p.m. EDT.
These words are regularly associated with the removal of organs from living prisoners of conscience—most notably practitioners of Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual practice that has been persecuted in the mainland since 1999, under the orders of former regime leader Jiang Zemin. Since 1999 Chinese state media has often spread virulent propaganda on the topic, while all other nonofficially sanctioned perspectives have been strictly controlled.
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The first noted occurrence of unblocking was the evening of March 23, Beijing local time, around the same time a series of other related terms were also able searchable.
As of evening March 25 10 p.m. EDT, it was possible to search “Wang Lijun live harvest” on Baidu and find as the first result an electronic bulletin board post detailing allegations of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners, and Wang Lijun’s involvement in organ harvesting. (Unusual for the website, which appears as an ordinary bulletin board post, it can neither be archived by webcitation.org nor stored in Google’s cache. Pictures of it are preserved in research notes used for this story.)
Evidence, previously reported by The Epoch Times, suggests that Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief whose attempted defection to a U.S. Consulate in early February set off the current political storm, was involved in the practice.
The page now available on the Chinese Internet appears to be a near reproduction of content from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, a small research group, with English letters substituting some of the Chinese characters in the report.
According to Web Site Pulse, that website was accessible from Shanghai on the morning of March 26 local time.
The intensely peculiar nature of the scenario was not lost on Chinese netizens.
On Tencent Weibo, user Zhang Gen from Anhui Province wrote: “Search for ‘Wang Lijun live harvest’ on Baidu, what you’ll see is shocking and astonishing. Weibo friends, quickly search it.”
Related searches saw the same oddness, with the title of the research group “World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong” able to be searched and Baidu fetching apparently positive results. Though by the morning of March 26 Beijing local time, searches on Baidu were blocked.
Other results on Baidu’s Tieba service, similar to Yahoo! Answers, mentioned the news, but they were later deleted.
One result when searching the term on Baidu was a news article about how the U.S. Congress would be investigating the “Wang Lijun incident.” According to Web Site Pulse, tested on the evening of March 25 New York local time, that website was not blocked inside China.
It is unclear what is taking place with the blocking and unblocking. It is still not possible to simply search “Falun Gong” or “June 4” on Baidu and receive results that are not chock full of official propaganda. Such searches are also disallowed entirely on Sina Weibo. One rumor on Baidu said that 7,000 terms had recently been unblocked; no authoritative source was provided, and the claim was impossible to check.
But the fact that something strange and unprecedented is going on is in the air. On March 23 The Epoch Times reported Chen Kuide, editor of the website China In Perspective, and the former head of the Princeton China Initiative, saying in an interview that searches related to Falun Gong may have been unblocked as part of the ongoing power struggle pitting the “Jiang faction,” which includes Bo Xilai, who lost his post amid recent political upheaval, and Zhou Yongkang, the head of almost all law enforcement entities in China, against the current leadership of Hu Jintao, Party chief, and Wen Jiabao, the premier.
A user from Xiamen, Fujian Province, wrote of the recent unusual relaxed censorship: “There are going to be big changes in the future! Astonishingly, one can search ‘bloody harvest’ on Baidu. If that is true, it’s a crime against humanity. You know who the spear is pointed at.”
Details on original sources are stored here.
With research by Ariel Tian