The 2-Minute Thought: A Censored Market Commentary

To understand the following passage, please see the numbered guide to the missing words below:

Few would   1  that the behavior of financial markets sometimes defies common sense.  There are downright absurd stories like Long Island Iced Tea seeing its stock soar nearly 300% in December after a  2  move to change its name to “Long Blockchain Corp” (though I hear the stock now faces delisting).  And just this week, Chinese stocks with the word “  3  ” in their name soared after China removed the two-term limit for its leader, paving the way for Xi Jinping’s  4 .  For example, Shenzhen  3  Technology Co. was up nearly 10%.  Anhui Yingjia Distillery Co, whose Chinese name includes the words for “greeting the 5 carriage” was up too.  And then there was Harbin VITI Electronics, whose Chinese name includes words for “powerful 3 ,” up 7%.

Other things in markets may not be as absurd but still are hard to understand.  Take the dominance of big tech.  How can it be that at one point, midyear in 2017, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft accounted for over 40% of the S&P 500’s rise?  Apple is on its way to being a trillion-dollar company.  Google isn’t just the dominant search engine, but a player in businesses ranging from autonomous vehicles to   6 -- yes, believe it or not, Google is investing in finding the cure for death.  We have a love-hate relationship with these tech giants.  We’re terrified of Amazon.  Yet, at the same time, many of us – I think there might be 90 million of us –  say, “   7   Amazon Prime.”

1.  disagree 

2.  shameless

3.  emperor

4.  lifelong rule

5.  emperor’s

6.  immortality

7.  Long live

Okay, I won’t belabor the point anymore.   The blanked-out words are ones that have been banned on China’s internet after China announced it was abolishing its two-term limit for presidents.  There are many more banned words: personality cult, boarding a plane (a homophone for “ascending the throne”), the wheel of history, universal celebration, “Brave New World,” “Animal Farm,” and “1984”.  After searches for “emigrate” and “migrate” spiked online, those words were banned too.

Then there are culturally specific bans, like the name Yuan Shikai, a warlord from late Qing who briefly reestablished a monarchy.  And there is “Oppose Qing, restore Ming” (if you’ve studied Chinese history, you’d understand why).  The best list I’ve seen so far is in China Digital Times (https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2018/02/sensitive-words-emperor-xi-jinping-ascend-throne/).

Baidu and other search engines have received edicts on how to prioritize searches.  And if you use one of the banned words, Weibo will display a message saying, “Sorry, the content violates the relevant laws and regulations of Weibo’s terms of service.”  The point: Xi Jinping continues to tighten his iron grip.

The most curious thing was that the letter “N” was banned for a short time -- though now, it once again is permitted.  (By the way, it would have been too much to take out all the letters “n” in my passage above.)  The popular explanation is from Victor Mair, a China expert from the University of Pennsylvania.  He suggests “N” was blocked “out of fear on the part of the government that ‘N’ = ‘n terms in office,’ where possibly n>2.”