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A New Species of Beetle Named After President Xi Is Blacklisted on Chinese Social Media

Image from Hong Kong non-profit independent media The Stand News. (Non-commercial use)

Image from Hong Kong non-profit independent media The Stand News. (Non-commercial use)

A Chinese scientist recently published an article on Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal for animal taxonomists, about the discovery of a new beetle species from Hainan Island called Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii. While the “xii” part of the name might just look like Roman numerals, it's actually a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The scientist, Wang Cheng Bin, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of ecology at the Czech University of Life Sciences, wrote in his article (via China Digital Times):

The specific epithet is dedicated to Dr. Xi Jin-Ping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, for his leadership making our motherland stronger and stronger

It is not uncommon for scientists to pay homage to state leaders in their naming of new species, such as Aptostichus barackobamai, a species of trapdoor spider named after the 44th president of the United States, and Mandelia mirocornata, a sea slug named after Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa.

But the naming of this new bug after Xi has been deemed a “sensitive” issue in China, and the Chinese translation of the name (習氏狼條脊甲) has been banned from search on social media site Weibo. The search notice from Weibo states:

Screen capture of Weibo search result.

Screen capture of the Weibo search result for “Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii.”

根據相關法律法規和政策,“習氏狼條脊甲”搜索結果未予顯示。

According to related law and policy, the search result of “Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii” cannot be shown.

The word “bug” has a negative connotation in Chinese culture. Furthermore, the scientific description of Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii says it resides underneath rotten trees and eats rotten things, imagery associated with corruption in Chinese literature.

The ban on the term quickly became a running joke online. A Weibo user sarcastically praised the effectiveness of web censors:

敏感词检查现在好高级,xxx冠名甲虫那条吐槽在微博、豆瓣和人人网都被瞬间删除了。可见xxx应该是不大高兴冠名昆虫的?这可真是马屁拍到马腿上了。。。

The check on sensitive terms is so advanced. The post about the new bug named after XXX on [major social media platforms] Weibo, Duban and Ren Ren was deleted instantly. Should we say that XXX is not happy about the bug being named after him? An act of ass kissing now turns into ass kicking…

The sensitive nature of the name is perhaps best captured in a poem titled after Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and circulated on social media. It was written by Zhang LIfan, a well-known writer and historian:

变形记
高黑悬疑马屁功,
命名想象力无穷。
天生一代真龙种,
驾梦凌空变甲虫。

The Metamorphosis
Confusion between ass kissing and advanced hacking [of meaning],
Name draws boundless imagination.
Natural-born dragon species,
Driving the dream in the air now turns into bug.

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