China censors social media responses to proposal to abolish presidential terms

Negative social media reactions in China toward the government’s interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China’s constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023.

The Party’s Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would “serve no more than two consecutive terms,” according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March.

Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee’s announcement, signaling that the public’s reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted.

“Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept,” one user wrote on Weibo, according to What’s on Weibo, a news site that focuses on China’s social media.

Another website, FreeWeibo.com, shows what the platform looks like uncensored. One of the posts that was censored by Weibo’s parent company, Sina, said in a comment we’ve translated, “Amendments to the constitution are usually supposed to promote people’s freedom and limit public power. An amendment that proposes to do the exact opposite is so unheard of, I didn’t expect to encounter it at all.” The poster then went on to say sarcastically, “What a great era we live in.”

Some pointed out the similarity to North Korea. “We’re following the example of our neighbor,” one said, as spotted on Weibo by Reuters, in a post that was removed swiftly on Sunday. The Kim family has ruled China’s neighbor since the 1940s.

An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including “constitution amendment,” “re-elected,” “proclaim oneself as emperor,” and “two term limit.” The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.

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