On January 11 this year, dissident Chinese writer Yu Jie (余杰) arrived in the United States with his wife and family for a self-imposed exile. At a press conference in Washington DC on January 18, Yu said he had been seriously beaten in 2010, the year he released his book China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao (《中国影帝温家宝》), which was highly critical of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) and China’s government. At the press conference, Yu described how plainclothes security police had stripped him naked and subjected him to abuse. Yu said the men threatened him by saying: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour, and no one on earth would know.”

In the weeks that followed Yu Jie’s press conference in the United States, his words were shared inside China through social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, and a new online catchphrase was born: “buried alive.”

For many social media users, the term has now become synonymous with courage of conviction — and with the unfortunate consequences such conviction can bring in a society that does not tolerate dissent. The term can also refer to acts of courage and dissent in speech.

Chinese novelist Ah Ding (阿丁), who resides overseas, wrote on Sina Weibo on January 19, the day after Yu’s Washington press conference”Happy New Year! May you make the bury alive list!”

On February 1, the official Weibo of Caijing magazine reported a Xinhua News Agency story about Premier Wen Jiabao encouraging the people to criticize the government. One user responded: “Of course after everyone’s voiced their criticism they will all be buried alive.”