China’s move to abolish presidential term limits is more unpopular than the government thought — so it’s turning to censorship

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty ImagesChinese President Xi Jinping
  • China’s ruling Communist Party announced its plan to abolish presidential term limits on Sunday, which would allow President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.
  • A number of related phrases as well as pictures of Winnie the Pooh, which is said to look like Xi, were subsequently censored on Chinese social media.
  • The censorship, that started several hours after the announcement, indicates the Chinese government may not have expected much criticism from citizens.

  • Criticism of the Chinese government’s desire to abolish presidential term limits has seen censorship soar since Sunday.

    China’s constitution restricts the president and vice-president to serving a maximum of two terms – 10 years – with President Xi Jinping’s leadership due to end in 2023.

    While censoring social media is a regular occurrence in China, the latest incident may mean the Communist Party’s proposal to scrap presidential term limits, and essentially allow President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely, was more unpopular than anticipated.

    After the proposed change was announced on Sunday, critical posts began flooding both Weibo and WeChat.

    According to What’s On Weibo, a website that tracks trending conversations on the Twitter-like service, many called the announcement “scary.”

    “I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again. I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution,” wrote a Weibo user.

    “Argh, we’re going to become North Korea,” wrote another, according to Reuters.

    “We’re following the example of our neighbor,” said another.

    But, Reuters reported, these posts were removed late Sunday evening.

    A number of phrases have also been censored on Weibo. Searching for “two term limit,” “third consecutive term,” “constitution,” “Emperor Xi,” and “continued rule,” will return zero search results. Other censored phrases also reportedly include “heil,” “ascended to throne,” and “immortality.”

    WeChat has also been affected. One New York Times reporter based in Beijing said he was unable to send a news report about the proposal to a family member on WeChat, but other messages were still able to be sent and received.

    China regularly censors phrases it disagrees that become popular on social media. But the government’s censoring of this language hours after the term limit proposal — which would have been planned for some time — indicates the government hadn’t expected the level of criticism it ended up receiving.

    Pictures of Winnie the Pooh also flooded social media

    Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images

    There are also multiple reports that pictures of Winnie the Pooh are also being censored.

    Chinese netizens have used pictures of the character to poke fun at Xi in the past, who is thought to look similar in appearance to the bear.

    This weekend photos of Winnie wearing a crown, sitting in a throne, and hugging a honey pot spread on Weibo.

    Not only have some of these pictures been censored but, according to a tweet from cyber analyst Fergus Ryan, the phrases “Disney China” and “Winnie the Pooh” have also been banned.

    The proposal to remove China’s presidential term limit will be voted on in March and is expected to pass easily.

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