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China’s Censors Scramble After Xi’s G-20 Speech

China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sept. 4, 2016.
China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sept. 4, 2016.

Censors in China are working overtime to scrub the Internet and social media of any mention of a slip-up made by Chinese President Xi Jinping made during a speech in Hangzhou before the Group of 20 Nations leaders’ summit.

In a speech Saturday to the Business 20 (B20) summit, which advises the G-20 leaders on policy decisions, Xi talked about the global economy and quoted an ancient Chinese phrase: "Make the tariff light and the road smooth, promote trade and ease agricultural policy."

But because the last character in the phrase for agriculture is very similar to the one for clothes, he ended up saying “taking one’s clothes off” instead of "ease agricultural policy."

The phrase was quickly censored on China’s Weibo microblog website, after many comments on the slip-up began to surface. Searches for this term return no results, suggesting it has been removed. Such content is also censored on the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat.

A Twitter user said, "Xi mistakenly read 'easing agricultural policy' as 'taking off clothing' means that he did not read the texts beforehand, nor does he care about the content."

Another joked that "'Taking off clothing' promotes communication. ... To run business, you must take off clothes first."

A commenter on an overseas Chinese blog says the incident reminds him of the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes." "The reality is that the child shouting that the king is naked is silenced," he writes on his blog.

Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist, drew a cartoon picture depicting a naked Xi in a neon adult toy signboard with the caption "promoting trade and taking off clothing."

Politicians often misspeak, both in China and around the world. But this gaffe is reopening discussion of Xi’s education credentials, long a sensitive but widely discussed topic.

Xi left school when he was a middle school student during China’s Cultural Revolution to work in the countryside of western Shaanxi province. In 1976, Xi, like many of his peers at the time who missed out on nearly a decade of education, was recommended to Tsinghua University. There was no national college entrance exam during the Cultural Revolution.

From 1998 to 2002, Xi studied Marxist theory and ideology education in Tsinghua and obtained a doctorate degree in law. Some critics have questioned Xi’s academic capability, suggesting his thesis may have been plagiarized or written by others. Xi has never commented on the controversy.

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