In Changing China, Being 'Suicided' Or 'Harmonized' It's become fashionable in China to use the passive voice when authorities have done something you don't like. Being "harmonized" is now a common expression that means you've been censored. The play on words by the Chinese is a darkly humorous poke at their situation.

In Changing China, Being 'Suicided' Or 'Harmonized'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR's Anthony Kuhn calls this new grammatical voice the passive subversive.

ANTHONY KUHN: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences historian Lei Yi was one of the judges at the event. He says that Internet users voted the new word by a landslide.

LEI YI: (Through translator) We felt we should recognize this result, so we named bei as the character most representative of China's situation last year.

KUHN: Unidentified Man: (Speaking Mandarin)

KUHN: Unidentified Man: (Speaking Mandarin)

KUHN: Meanwhile, activists, like human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, now find themselves involuntarily invited to tea by police. Jiang says that's the new euphemism for being questioned by police, usually about political matters.

JIANG TIANYONG: (Through translator) Because there are more and more people like myself, the police are forced to refine their methods and at least appear more polite. I think this is an improvement.

KUHN: The new, softer tactics, Jiang says, show that authorities know that as citizens' awareness of their legal rights increases, their power decreases. Authorities also know that they're offending people, and the less power they have, the riskier this becomes. That's why it's safer to cover their coercion under a layer of deniability - see, we're just having a cup of tea. But Jiang Tianyong says he's not always thirsty.

TIANYONG: (Through translator) They don't admit that they're investigating you. They just say that they're friends and they want to chat. I say that since they're just friends, I can accept their invitation or not. It depends on whether or not I have time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: Historian Lei Yi says that when Chinese now say: We've been represented, it means they're aware that they've actually been misrepresented without their consent.

YI: (Through translator) For centuries we've been told that the emperor represented the people's interests, or that some organization or some leader represented our interests. People did not realize that they had been represented. This word of the year signals the awakening of citizens' consciousness.

KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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