A Chinese journalist who is now living in exile in India has handed a large list of what he says are sensitive terms censored in China to Radio Free Asia, a US-backed broadcaster.

Li Xin, former editor for the liberal-leaning Southern Metropolis Daily’s online edition, said he took pictures of the list he found on the website’s internal operations system two years ago.

A big section of the list consists of terms related to censored topics such as the 1989 student protests and Falun Gong. Photo: Radio Free Asia.

A large section of the list consists of terms concerned with banned topics, including the 1989 Tiananmen student protests and the Falun Gong organisation, such as “89 democracy movement”, “June 4” and “truthfulness, benevolence, forbearance”.

Others are clearly related to news incidents. For example, “son”, “driver’s licence”, “Beijing” and “Ferrari” were listed together, possibly due to a 2012 Ferrari crash in Beijing in which Ling Gu, son of former president Hu Jintao’s top aide Ling Jihua, was killed.

Some terms were clearly related to certain news incidents such as the 2012 car crash which killed former official Ling Jihua’s son. Photo: Radio Free Asia.

Li said reporters and editors were told to prevent terms on the list from appearing on the website during the period of time when a related incident was drawing public attention.

Some of the terms are people’s names, including former and current Chinese leaders, as well as their families. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and BBC investigative journalist John Sweeney’s names were on the list.

Li Xin speaks to Radio Free Asia. Photo: RFA radio screencap.

The names of several media outlets, including Bloomberg, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Apple Daily, China Securities Daily and Xinhua Daily Telegraph, were also listed.

The appearance of some other terms on the list was difficult to explain or even outright bizarre, such as “wedding ring” and “married for seven years.”

HKFP tests have shown that many of the terms on the list are not blocked on China’s main search engine Baidu or social media platform Sina Weibo. Others were partially blocked with a message saying “some results are not displayed due to relevant laws and regulations.”

In an interview with Radio Free Asia published earlier this week, Li said he decided to flee China after national security agents pressed him to spy on human rights activists and dissidents. Li revealed he arrived in New Delhi via Hong Kong on October 30. He said he had planned the escape for a long time and he was worried about the safety of his family who remained in China.

While Li’s name is not blocked on Baidu, his Tencent Weibo page has been deleted.

Li’s own name does not appear to be censored in China. Search results on Baidu showed his earlier work at Southern Metropolis Daily.

However, his page on Tencent Weibo, a microblogging site, has been deleted.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.