July 21, 2017 5:56 am JST

China clamps down on talk of Liu Xiaobo

Banned terms on social media grow as mourners slip through cracks

TETSUSHI TAKAHASHI, Head of Nikkei's China Headquarters

People in Hong Kong mourn Liu Xiaobo's death at the traditional seventh day of passing ceremony on July 19. (Photo by Kenji Kawase)

BEIJING -- Chinese authorities have tightened censorship of social media messages about pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo and his death last week in what is seen as a bid to keep dissent in check ahead of a major leadership reshuffle this fall.

Searching for Liu's name on the popular WeChat microblogging service still brings up a message that the results cannot be displayed. "RIP," short for "rest in peace," joined the blacklist after his death.

Supporters of Liu have found methods for evading this censorship and expressing their grief in more oblique ways. Some refer to him as "Mandela Liu," likening him to revered South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.

The ensuing game of whack-a-mole continued a week after Liu's death, with new expressions cropping up as fast as authorities could block them.

Liu's ashes were scattered at sea Saturday -- the day the news broke that Sun Zhengcai, once seen as a potential successor to President Xi Jinping, had been removed as Chongqing's Communist Party chief amid a corruption probe. In this, some see a deliberate effort by Beijing to divert attention from Liu.

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