Chinese censors tormented by mythical animal

Originally published by Times Online, 21 February 2010

A new mythical animal is on the prowl on the Chinese internet.

The Yake lizard is the latest creation of China’s nimble and imaginative netizens as a way to poke fun at the authorities and their bid to corral online debate and to block access to sites the censors deem inappropriate.

Internet satirists were inspired by the language used by a Uighur artist performing on the Spring Festival Gala show, the annual Chinese New Year’s Eve jamboree created and broadcast by China Central Television to entertain viewers gathered at home for the most important festival of the year. Watched by the largest television audience on Earth, it is an opportunity for wholesome family entertainment peppered with propaganda.

When the artist from the restive, mainly Muslim western Xinjiang region performed the song “The Party’s Policies are yakexi” – using the Uighur word for “good”, Chinese netizens were not convinced. After all, seven months ago angry Uighurs took to the streets, leaving nearly 200 people – mostly Han Chinese- dead after a night of rioting.

Netizens pounced on the word to ridicule the song – and the censors. They soon found a suitable pun, since Chinese is a language rich in homonyms, and the Uighur word became Yake lizard. The word “xi” in Chinese can mean lizard.

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