June 4th: The Struggle Of Memory Against Forgetting
from the rewriting-history dept
Today is June 4th, a day pretty much like any other day in most parts of the world. But in China, June 4th has a unique significance because of the events that took place in Tiananmen Square on that day in 1989. This has led the Chinese authorities to introduce a range of increasingly repressive measures designed to minimize the ability of people to find out about what happened then, or to commemorate it, as the International Herald Tribune explains:
Today. Tonight. June 4. Big Yellow Duck.
Type any of these seemingly innocuous words and phrases, in Chinese, into Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog with more than 500 million registered users, and a message shows up that says: “According to relevant laws, statutes and policies,” the results of the search “cannot be shown.”
Wait, Big Yellow Duck? The reason that term is blocked is the following image that has been circulating on Sina Weibo and Twitter:
That’s a reference to the iconic picture of what has come to be known as the “Tank man” — a lone individual standing in front of a line of tanks, taken in Beijing on June 5, 1989.
For some time, the Chinese authorities have been playing this game of Whac-A-Mole, as new ways of referring to June 4th are devised — one popular one was “May 35th”. That’s clearly something that authorities can’t win, since people will always be able to devise new, oblique ways of indicating the date and events. But according to this article in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like the Chinese authorities are trying out a new tactic for handling this dangerous topic:
On Friday, a China Real Time search for “Tiananmen Incident” did not return the customary message from Sina informing the user that search results could not be displayed due to “relevant laws, regulations and policies.” Instead the search returned results about a separate Tiananmen incident that occurred on Tomb Sweeping Day in 1976, when Beijing residents flooded the area to protest after they were prevented from mourning the recently deceased Premiere Zhou Enlai.
That’s obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches, which alerts people to the fact that something is being hidden. The new approach does not block, but filters, returning hits that refer to other, less problematic events. This not only stops people finding out about things like Tiananmen Square in 1989, it creates an alternative narrative that starts to erase the main one:
“They effectively make it look like people are talking about the issue, but there is nothing worthwhile being said,” said the Greatfire.org spokesman, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the group’s work.
“If someone mentioned to you, ‘There was an incident in Tiananmen many years ago,’ you’d search it and think they were talking about 1976,” he said.
As the Wall Street Journal rightly concludes:
The new function is likely to send a chill down the spines of the tens of thousands in Hong Kong and Taiwan who regularly gather to commemorate the massacre, for whom one common refrain comes from Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”