Chloé Zhao and 'Nomadland' Oscars Censorship Sparks Anger, Disbelief in China

Internet users in China are expressing a mixture of anger and disbelief as the country's largest social media platform carries out system-wide censorship of Oscar winner Chloé Zhao and her multiple-award-winning film Nomadland.

Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, appears to be deleting related posts within minutes as congratulatory messages flood in for Beijing-born Zhao, following the movie's success at the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday night.

Weibo users following developments on Monday morning local time are turning to numbers, symbols and emojis to disguise their mentions of Nomadland, which is known as "Wuyizhidi" in mainland China.

"Wu1zhidi" is one of the alternatives appearing on the website's timeline. The number 1, pronounced "yi" in Mandarin, seems to be temporarily evading internet censors when posts do not generate much engagement.

Hashtags about Nomadland and related phrases from the Oscars remain censored, with searches returning no results despite what appears to be some excitement about Zhao's win. She became the first woman of color and only the second woman ever to land Best Director.

Her 2020 road movie also won Best Picture, while Frances McDormand landed Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Zhao, who now resides in the United States, accepted her award by quoting part of a Chinese poem: "People at birth are inherently good."

Weibo users—among the website's more than 500 million active monthly users—expressed pride in Zhao's success, which they saw as a milestone for all Chinese and Asians in the entertainment industry. However, many expressed disapproval and opposition at the silencing of related discussions, including the movie's inability to reach the platform's trending list.

"It's hard to imagine that in this moment, when all Asians should be proud, one has to type 'wu1zhidi' in order to congratulate director Chloé Zhao. The irony," one user wrote.

"Wu1zhidi has become a banned phrase. There is no hope for simplified Chinese internet," a second added.

A Weibo commentator said: "Nomadland has become A Quiet Place."

Another wrote: "Weibo is now a Nomadland."

Zhao, who was educated in the U.K. and U.S., was briefly celebrated following her Best Director win at the Golden Globes in February. However, seemingly critical comments she had made about China in 2013 later resurfaced, causing China's nationalistic social media users to turn on her.

Nomadland was scheduled to premier in China on April 23, but viewings were pulled from theaters.

China's major state media outlets, including CCTV and Xinhua, had only reported on Zhao's Golden Globes success. The websites had not written about Zhao's Oscars win at the time of publication.

Nomadland Suffers Censorship in China
(L-R) Peter Spears, Frances McDormand, Chloé Zhao, Mollye Asher and Dan Janvey, winners of Best Picture for "Nomadland," pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images