Tiananmen Square? Don’t mention it

As always the Chinese authorities cracked down on public commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which occurred 34 years ago last Sunday. As always more things were added to the list of what cannot be said in the lead-up. And as always people got creative in their response to getting round the censorship. Here’s a roundup of what happened recently for the anniversary Beijing would rather we all forgot.

White candles not welcome

Armoured police vehicles were deployed and hundreds of police conducted stop and search operations near Victoria Park in Hong Kong, where vigils for the victims of the massacre had previously been held for decades. The UN were “alarmed” that 23 people were arrested on Sunday for “breaching the peace”, including a veteran activist knows as “Grandma Wong”. A solitary elderly man who held a candle on a street corner was also reported to have been arrested. Commemorations of the event have become increasingly off-limits in the city state since China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020. Still, Twitter was filled with images of people lighting candles from the relative safety of their own homes in Hong Kong.

Don’t mention Sitong Bridge

Words or symbols that reference the massacre are notoriously scrubbed from the internet by the Chinese authorities. Last week, this censorship extended to the Sitong Bridge in Beijing, when Chinese language online searches of the bridge yielded no results. It comes after a banner was unfurled on the bridge in 2022 calling for the removal of Chinese president Xi Jinping. A Weibo post by the British Embassy in Beijing showing how the Chinese state media originally reported the massacre (namely in more detail than the silence now, with state media making reference to mass casualties in hospital at the time) was removed by the authorities. The anniversary is sometimes known as “internet maintenance day” because of the number of websites taken offline.

Literary pursuits

In the weeks building up to the anniversary, it was reported that books and videos about the massacre were pulled from Hong Kong public libraries, after government auditors requested works that were “manifestly contrary” to national security be taken away. Wio News reported in mid-May that searches of library archives involving keywords on the massacre turned up no articles or references.

Tiananmen Square surveilled

No shocker here, but worth saying nonetheless – any form of rally or protest was absent at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Sunday due to additional security checks in the area. Pedestrians on Changan Avenue, running north of the square, were stopped and forced to present identification. Journalists were also told they need special permission to be in the area.

New York new museum

A new museum dedicated to the Tiananmen Square massacre opened on Friday in New York. Zhou Fengsuo, who opened the exhibit as part of the 4th June Memorial Museum, felt it was needed as a pushback to the decades-long campaign by the CCP to eradicate remembrance of the massacre around the world. Despite being in the USA, there are still security fears for the museum’s workers. Speaking about how the museum will operate a visitor booking system, Wang Dan, a former student leader during the Tiananmen protests, told the Guardian: ““We cannot open the door for anyone who wants to come in because we’re really worried they [the Chinese embassy] will send somebody.”

The world remembers

Commemorations for the massacre were held around the world, including in Sydney, where speakers included exiled former diplomat Chen Yonglin, and demonstrators chanted “Free Hong Kong”. In London, hundreds gathered outside the Chinese Embassy calling for justice for the victims of the massacre, and for the release of human rights lawyer Chow Hang-Tung. Over in Taipei in Taiwan, less than a month after the seizure of Hong Kong’s “Pillar of Shame”, a statue commemorating the victims of the massacre, people gathered around a replica on Sunday as part of the city’s commemorations. Now the only place in the Chinese-speaking world to openly hold a memorial, organisers hoped to show solidarity with both Hong Kong and Chinese dissidents.

High drama at the Metropolitan Opera

The power of the internet to effect change was amply demonstrated yesterday after the Metropolitan Opera in New York reversed a decision that would have affected the freedom of the magazine Opera News to write about the opera house impartially with the following statement:

In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.

The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission. While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.

According to the New York Times, “Opera News… one of the leading classical music magazines in the country, said on Monday that it would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, a policy prompted by the Met’s dissatisfaction over negative critiques.” Opera News is published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, though that has never stopped it from publishing negative criticisms of the Met in the past. The New York Times reported, “Gelb (the Met’s Managing Director) never liked the idea that an organisation created to support the Met had a publication passing judgement on its productions. Worse yet, a publication that ‘continuously rips into an institution that its parent is supposed to help.’”

Peter Gelb’s pressure led to a situation where F Paul Driscoll, the editor of America’s most widely read classical music publication, with a circulation of 100,000, no longer felt that his magazine was at liberty to speak openly about the Met’s productions.

This created a dangerous precedent in a country where free speech, as enshrined in the First Amendment of the US constitution, is at least intended to be sacrosanct.

Whether a critic is right or wrong, debate has always been the lifeblood of an arts world which would not exist if it did not have an audience (and critics) to feed it. And every member of that audience — some of whom may have their own blogs — will have a view of the fare on offer that may or may not square with that of the management or the creative team. An opera house that bans its critics would clearly prefer a situation where it dictates its terms unilaterally, immune from the dialogue which can be as productive as it can be dangerous but which alone will confirm and sometimes abet the success or failure of an artistic endeavour.

Edward Said, who was perhaps as knowledgable about opera as he was about the Middle East, was forever irked by the fact that his home house, the Met, was an operatic dinosaur chained by the mid-20th century European conventions it never had the courage or ambition to shake off.

Ironically, he would probably have approved of Peter Gelb, a man who has been trying to drag the house into the 21st Century, sometimes with its audiences kicking and screaming. Gelb should be applauded for this, but his tools of persuasion should be education and debate, not censorship. By taking the path he did, he was simply reinforcing the prejudices of those who already find modern operatic production just a little strange and are no doubt unsurprised to find that its supporters had to resort to such measures in order to promote it. Gelb’s behaviour was the product of insecurity, not strength, and would have been perceived as such.

Mark Glanville is a music journalist and singer


US: Sex article sparks campus uproar

Funding has been pulled from a student newspaper in New York, following the publication of an article about pre-marital sex. The Student Council at Yeshiva University, the Orthodox Jewish college in Manhattan, opted to withdraw the $500 it takes to publish The Beacon after the anonymous article received more than 41,000 hits and sparked an argument about “the soul of the university.”

The decision sparked a campus-wide debate on censorship at the university, where the principles are based on the philosophy of Torah U’madda – the relationship between the secular world and Judaism.

Occupy Wall Street – Journalists face difficulty

As the Occupy movement protesting against social and economic inequality rumbles on and spreads across the world, journalists covering the protests are facing increasingly negative treatment from the police, particularly in New York.

Freelancer Natasha Lennard, John Farley of MetroFocus magazine and Kristen Gwynn, freelancer with news websiteAlterNet, were all arrested in the earlier stages of the movement, whilst a cameraman and a journalist from Fox 5 were both assaulted. All three  were arrested because they didn’t have the correct press cards.

Since August 2010, the responsibility to issue press cards in New York lay with the police department. A wide range of restrictions are in place to determine who qualifies as a journalist. To be granted press accreditation, a journalist must have published or broadcast breaking news at least six times in the past year, and without a press card, they cannot cover the protests.

Two other reporters have been assaulted during their coverage of the protests. Cameraman Roy Isen, of Fox 5, was pepper sprayed in the face, and his colleague, reporter Dick Brennan, was hit with a police baton.

Rumours are suggesting that anyone with a camera is being targeted by the police force, including professional and citizen journalists, hampering coverage of the protests. NYPD have denied those with cameras are being singled out.

The Occupy movement has adopted the slogan “we are the 99%”, noting the difference in wealth with the top 1 percent of earners in the USA. The protests began in New York on 17 September and have become referred to as “951 cities in 82 countries”, having spread across the world to cities including Reykjavík, Amsterdam, Auckland and Kuala Lumpur.