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.”

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “June 4th: The Struggle Of Memory Against Forgetting”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Great. Now pirate Mikey is standing up for the common China man. News flash, Thats too bad for them. If they don’t like it they can leave China. A bigger story is the pirate that reappropriated those duck images without permission. Wait till my buddies at copyright trolling corps get a hold of this (Can you say $150,000 per incident?). Its payday in corporate America.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: And here's a FRAUD making false comments in my name!

Doing exactly same thing as minion mentions above as bad: “That’s obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches, which alerts people to the fact that something is being hidden.”

And this after the prior item where I said that supplying falsehoods is worse than keeping people in ignorance. Point proven!

THIS IS TECHDIRT. Fraud and suppression of speech on an item about oppression. Doesn’t get much stupider than this anywhere on the web.

If the rest of you fanboys had any decency, you’d defend me here in this clear case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And here's a FRAUD making false comments in my name!

I see a parallel to recent discussions here: instead of taking the most basic steps to defend yourself, you’re asking others to do all of the work for you. Why should we spend our time and agree to additional restrictions on this site, when you refuse to do any work other than complain?

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Re: And here's a FRAUD making false comments in my name!

Blue, he did such a good job impersonating you his sarcasm went unnoticed and his comment got reported into oblivion.

This should tell you how the community in general reacts to anything with your name on it.

Of course you could eliminate the impersonation issue by creating an account and fix the report issue by putting some thought into your posts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And here's a FRAUD making false comments in my name!

can’t even tell the two of you apart and only lightly believe the two of you are actually different people and not one person who has access to at least two different IP addresses.

So why bother complaining? Sounds like someone is doing your job for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And here's a FRAUD making false comments in my name!

Yeah, I’ll support you here. That guy should not be using your name.

They could call themselves out_of_the_green or something if they want to parody. That would be fine. But just copying a screenname and trying to impersonate someone is dishonest.

Dissenting voices are important. Otherwise you just get an echo chamber where everyone says the same thing, and there’s no point in even HAVING comments. I disagree with you more often than I agree, but not always… and it’s good to hear the other side sometimes.

Now, if I can relate this to the article… what the Chinese are doing is akin to deleting your actual posts and substituting fake ones. Stuff like this is why I can call the government of China evil. Both that they’d do something like Tienanmen Square, and that they’d block people from even discussing it.

This shows how easily the Internet can be manipulated when the government controls everything. Any site that people can find, the government can find and then shut down or filter out. Any search term that is trending can be manually filtered. Any technology that tries to bypass surveillance can be outlawed (and sure, you can make a seemingly innocent private way to communicate with your friend that the government may not be able to crack, but that’s only going to work if you keep it private.)

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not even sure I want to say what they COULD be doing. I don’t want to give them any ideas if they haven’t thought of it already.

out_of_the_blue says:

"That's obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches,"

THAT’S exactly what I worry about with Google! They’re probably not doing it so much now, but in future, when they’ve yet more control of search and advertising? You can’t trust corporations or gov’ts, let alone when they’re merged.

^^^ My valuable screen name is being copied again! Just as I wish, because shows the childish level of fanboys here, and the attempt to suppress speech.

Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up same place!
If you like yapping ankle-biters, you’ll love Techdirt!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "That's obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches,"

“They’re probably not doing it so much now, but in future, when they’ve yet more control of search and advertising?”

They are doing it already. It’s called search bubble. Look it up.

That’s why smart people cross-reference information between several sources, and don’t rely on a single source. I’ve been teaching friends and family to do so.

If you want to solve the problem, as opposed to just come in here and criticize everyone and anyone, you should do some activism and teach people to break free from the restrictions imposed on them by the power of monopolies.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: "That's obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches,"

How can somebody using the same anon handle as you be suppression of speech? It could very easily be avoided by getting an actual account, but then you’d have a harder time crying about how you’re being “suppressed”, wouldn’t you? See, you can’t be anon and identified. That’s just the way you work. You want to be unique and identifiable, get an account. If you don’t want to be unique and identifiable, you don’t get to cry when another anon uses the same handle.

Pragmatic says:

Re: "That's obviously much more subtle than simply blocking these searches,"

You must love Techdirt, Cathy, since you spend so much time here. Your delusions of grandeur amuse me.

The only value in your screen name is that it saves us the bother of reading your drivel before we report it.

Case in point, I KNOW you use Google all the time, so stop using it if you’re so damn worried. Other search engines are available, you hypocrite.

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