It's been a really tough day for China's internet censors. The "sensitive word" they have been trying to block since midnight Sunday is "Panama," or "巴拿马," the Chinese characters of the central American country's name.
BuzzFeed News was able to capture some of the early discussions on the Panama Papers that were posted to the web before the censors got to work. Take this post that has already been deleted:
Other users quickly caught on and posted relevant phrases from the report to help people follow along. "Shhhh, you guys feel this," one wrote.
"I think I saw (the name of) the current emperor, why I'm not surprised at all," user "Sad Blue" wrote, referring satirically to Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose brother-in-law, Deng Jiagui, is reported to have offshore assets.
The initial reaction to the reports in Chinese media and on social media was muted because most people were away from their phones or computers paying tribute to their ancestors. It was, however, making the rounds in Western media.
Word spread faster than the censors arrived, and the first hashtag drew hundreds of thousands of views — then millions — just in a few hours. Almost everyone has shared the news in WeChat, but the links to the stories were later broken.
It's a tricky task for the Chinese censors. Wiping out non-Chinese language discussions is easier and attracts less attention. But blocking the name of a country in Chinese characters is very obvious and attracts a lot of attention to the scandal.
Instead the censors delete posts manually — which means some users are experiencing the censorship firsthand. Countless people typing out the banned word to see if their message is removed. "#Panama I'll see if it'll get deleted," one user wrote.
Others marking their location as Panama when they "checked in" on Weibo — without mentioning the leaked document. "#Panama test to see if it'll be censored," user Samzher wrote.
"Suddenly, so many people have been to #Panama," Weibo user Ding Yihan joked.
Volunteer censors — commonly known as Fifty Cent Party — also help out. "I enjoy watching the way you celebrate this. It's imperialistic Americans' conspiracy — how can they be absent when others all corrupt? Not fair..." one wrote.
Although it's not illegal to have offshore assets, members of the Chinese leadership do not like publicity about their reported wealth, especially amid the massive corruption campaign.
Beimeng Fu is a BuzzFeed News World Reporter covering China and is based in New York.
Contact Beimeng Fu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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