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.

“Tiananmen Square cemented my commitment to equality and justice”


Illustration: Badiucao

32 years ago, on 4 June 1989, the world bore witness to the realities of a totalitarian regime as the Chinese Communist Party deployed the People’s Liberation Army against unarmed protestors in Tiananmen Square. We still don’t know exactly how many people were brutally murdered although best estimates are in the thousands; the crackdown that followed across China shaped the country as we know it today and continues to resonate throughout the world.

‘Tank Man’, the image that is now synonymous with the events of Tiananmen Square, which shows an unarmed man seeking to block the movement of a tank by simply standing in front of it is both awful and awe-inspiring; it affected many of us in the decades that have followed, including me.

The Tiananmen Massacre shaped both my politics and my personal values. When you are lucky enough to be born and raised in a democracy the images from Beijing, from both the protests and the aftermath, were truly beyond comprehension. I was not yet 10 years old on the day of the massacre but I can remember the image of the man and a tank vividly.

It will surprise no one to learn that I grew up in a very political household and my extraordinary mum sat me down to explain what was happening thousands of miles away and why it was so important – but all I can really remember was fear for the man who was standing in front of a tank and an overwhelming sense of his bravery.

My home was one that celebrated collective action, a home that embraced the concept of solidarity and was internationalist – the image of the Tank Man was as crucial to my understanding of the world around me as the Miners’ Strike and the Poll Tax Riots. And without realising it, it was the events of Tiananmen Square on that fateful day which cemented my commitment to equality and justice – it also for the first time made me aware of the importance of a free press and free expression and of how the actions of one person on behalf of others can change the world.

These principles of anti-censorship, of solidarity, of equality and of justice are not only my values, but they are also the values of Index on Censorship and were those of our founders. As we reflect today on the events of 1989, we will remember not only the people who were killed for demanding a level of democracy in those fateful protests, but the people of Hong Kong who for the first time will be prevented from marking the anniversary because of the National Security Law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party. We stand with them today as we stood with the protestors in Tiananmen Square.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Tiananmen candlelights a sight too beautiful to last

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116835″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]For 30 years in a row after the 4 June bloodshed in Beijing, Hong Kong people had turned out en masse at Victoria Park, the city’s central park, to commemorate the victims of the killings at and around Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989.

The regular June scenes saw marked changes last year. The imminent enforcement of a national security law scheduled for 1 July 2020 and a government ban on assembly on grounds of the Covid-19 epidemic cast a long shadow over the annual vigil. Still, thousands of people came out, holding candlelights and vowing “not to forget 4 June”.

Citing social distancing rules again this year, the Police rejected the application for a march planned for 30 May and an assembly at the park on 4 June to mark the 32nd anniversary.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China (Alliance), an umbrella body composed of pro-democracy groups which holds the vigil every year, has announced they will not hold any event at the park in the evening of 4 June.

More than 20 democrats, including leaders of the Alliance, who took part in last year’s candlelight vigil last year, were convicted of participating in unlawful assembly. They were given jail sentences of up to 14 months.

The remaining Alliance leaders will no doubt be arrested and face at least the same charge if they turn up at the park on 4 June. Worse, they may be charged with subversion under the national security law.

Alliance leaders advised people to commemorate the victims in a safe and peaceful manner.

Media reports quoted anonymous sources close to the government warning people not to wear black clothes – a regular form of portest – and not to hold up candles at and near Victoria Park. First, they may breach the social distancing rules. Mort importantly, they may be charged with unlawful assembly if they are deemed to have the same purpose in public places.

As this article goes to press, the city is laden with an air mixed with anger and fear, persistence and helplessness.

Following the harsh sentences of democrats convicted of unlawful assembly and the enactment of the national security law, fear has swept the city. Calls for a democratic China and an end of one-party dictatorship that resonated in earlier 4 June vigils could now be deemed as subversive.

Although the majority of people still believe they are on the right side of the history of the 4 June crackdown and must persist in holding up the candle of hope, they feel helpless in stopping the government crackdown on commemorating the anniversary.

Last Wednesday, the operators of the 4 June Museum run by the Alliance closed its doors, hours after officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene department accused it of operating as a place of public entertainment without the required licences.

The museum reopened briefly on Sunday to mark the 4 June anniversary; it may never reopen again.

Founded at the heyday of the student-led movement in 1989, the Alliance’s days are seemingly numbered. Pro-Beijing political figures and media have put more pressure on the Government to ban the Alliance on grounds that its call for an end of one-party dictatorship in its manifesto is subversive.

Its disbandment is no longer a question of if, but when.

This is not so much because the Alliance has or will pose any real threat, nor embarrassment, to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. It can be argued that the opposite is true. That it was allowed to exist has provided a real-life case study that showed the world how the policy of “one country, two systems” worked.

Except for the much-smaller scale of commemorations in Taiwan, Hong Kong had been the only place in mainland China where people were allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre.

Tolerance of the communist authorities towards 4 June commemoration, and indeed a free Hong Kong, has now run out.

With hindsight, the authorities feel they were wrong to have given too much freedom to Hong Kong people. As a result of that, many, in particular young people, have kept testing Beijing’s tolerance by crossing the political “red lines”, referring to politically sensitive issues such as independence and self-determination as well as challenging the system of government and their governance.

The protracted territory-wide protests sparked by a bill on extradition in 2019, followed by a landslide victory of the democrats in the district council elections in November that year, have shocked Beijing. They responded by imposing the national security law and overhauling the election system to make sure the city is run by Beijing-trusted patriots.

With democracy scuttled and freedom curtailed, the 4 June candlelights, described by Nancy Pelosi, US House Speaker, as “a beautiful sight to behold”, may now become history, testifying the end of “one country, two systems.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”85″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

How big tech is enabling Chinese censorship around the world (The Telegraph)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Deputy editor of Index on Censorship magazine Jemimah Steinfeld talks to The Telegraph’s James Cook and Sophie Yan about the impact of technology on China’s tendency towards censorship beyond its borders.

“China exports its censorship. This is something that will become more common if companies like Zoom don’t take a stand now. I say this because we have already seen it happening. This is not the first example.”

Read the full article here[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]