How Chinese Censorship Tries To Disappear References To Tiananmen Square

from the it's-not-working dept

We all know that China and their “Great Firewall” of censorship exist and we have a general idea of just how deep the censorship goes. We’re also aware of the justifications that the Chinese government use for this censorship, including the notions that they’re just protecting their innocent citizens from all the evil on the internet, as well as censorship committed by some of their antagonists (including the USA). But if you thought that this censorship was chiefly about pornography or current events, you’re quite mistaken.

Take this fascinating piece about how China has attempted to disappear all reference to the 1989 incident in Tiananmen Square, which took place 25 years ago this week. The incident that culminated in hundreds of protesting students murdered on their own soil for the crime of wanting reforms within the communist government has been so thoroughly wiped from access that many young Chinese students aren’t even aware it had ever happened.

In an example of George Orwell’s “1984” dictum that “who controls the present controls the past”, it reflects both the ruling Communist Party’s immense power and its enduring sensitivity about its actions on June 3-4, 1989. A third of China’s population today was born afterwards, while many of those alive at the time hesitate to broach the sensitive topic — leaving a huge swathe of those under 25 ignorant of the event.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” a 20-year-old student at Peking University, one of China’s most prestigious, told AFP when asked about the protests, looking slightly embarrassed.

We’re not just talking about the internet, of course. China heavily censors their news, print media, literature, movies and music as well. And, for all the talk about protecting their people from the ills of the outside world, one result of all this censoring is that young, educated Chinese citizens don’t even know the history of their own nation. It’s quite obvious, as it always has been, that censorship in China has much more to do with protecting the Chinese government than it ever had to do with protecting the citizens.

Not that the censorship is 100% effective, of course.

Web users find workarounds such as “May 35”, “63 plus 1” or homonyms of banned words, though they too are eventually blacklisted.

“They are basically a mark of commemoration, like lighting up a candle somewhere even if no one understands what the reference is,” said Jason Ng, a University of Toronto research fellow and author of “Blocked on Weibo”.

This is a good thing, but almost besides the point. When censorship is so bad that a nation’s own citizens don’t even know that a major national event occurred merely twenty-five years previously, you see the real evil in censorship. Should this cause those of us that live in a climate with more liberty to try to push for liberty for our brothers and sisters in China? Sure. But even more than that, it should make us all the more vigilant against even the smallest encroachments on our own free speech rights, particularly any attacks on our newest communications tools, such as the internet. Otherwise, we, too, may find that our children won’t know their own history.

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Comments on “How Chinese Censorship Tries To Disappear References To Tiananmen Square”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Thailand Tiananmen

Tiananmen was 1989 and 250 people were killed.

Thailand’s massacre by the army of pro-democracy protestors in central Bangkok was 2010 much more recent, and 91 officially were killed, with several thousand still missing. Officially they escaped across the border to Cambodia and were never heard of again, however thousands of people who don’t even write an email or make a phone call? More likely they were shot. 117,923 bullets were fired (Google it), and it’s ridiculous to think so many missed their target.

The evidence is disappearing off the web, the videos on facebook of the killings seem to have gone, only a few still remain in youtube, e.g.:

Twitter at least is still free, FreeMindTH is showing yet another body found next to the PDRC ( = fake people mob used to justify the coup), discovered in the river.

Currently saying anything bad about our new Dictator ‘General Prayut’ will get you arrested and forced to sign a contract promising not to criticize the junta on pain of 1 year in prison.

If they introduce the new “Les Majeste for the Army” law they are proposing, then it will be a crime similar to criticizing the King. A jail sentence of up to 18 years in jail.

Thailand is getting very very scary.

Anonymous Coward says:

instead of cutting back, the Chinese authorities would have been better asking Google to ‘make it disappear’ completely. after all, the new EU law is going to be used to hide bad moves by governments as well as people. if it had asked nicely, i am sure an agreement could have been made to extend it’s reach to China!

Anonymous Coward says:

“one result of all this censoring is that young, educated Chinese citizens don’t even know the history of their own nation.”

I don’t think this is a uniquely Chinese problem. How many US students are aware of past US, er, embarrassments like Nicaragua in the 80s, or US puppet dictatorships in the Mideast/Central America, or even the depth of grassroots resistance to things like Vietnam? The US past has not disappeared entirely, but is certainly distorted and filtered by pro-establishment interests.

zip says:

Re: Re:

I’ve always found it somewhat odd that Abraham Lincoln is treated as a saint in US history textbooks, despite all the nasty things he did. Such as routinely jailing newspaper editors for daring to criticise his policies. And that’s not even getting into his scorched-earth military tactics, which would be considered war crimes by today’s standards.

But then I was lucky enough to have a high school history teacher who basically said that the (school-system-approved) textbooks were bullshit.

zip says:

barking up the wrong tree

“China heavily censors their news, print media, literature, movies and music as well.”

So have many other countries, including the United States and US allies. It’s worth noting that there are many flavors of censorship; it’s not just the ‘traditional’ type, of having an official government bureau that everything must pass through. Censorship is often more nuanced and subtle, and involves carrots more often than sticks.

Among the worst countries in the world for censorship are US “allies” such as Saudi Arabia, which is probably one of the most completely totalitarian countries in the world. But then you rarely hear a peep of protest from the US government or it’s lapdog media criticising Saudi Arabia or other US allies, while they relentlessly condemn (or worse) non-allied countries which are not nearly as bad. And it’s not just “third world” countries that enforce strange laws, in several Western European countries you can be thrown in jail just for saying “Heil Hitler” in public – as the occasional shocked tourist will discover. While it can be said that the United States promotes – and often enforces – it’s ideals of freedom around the world, it routinely turns a blind eye to its allies’ abuses, despite being in a position where the US could actually do something about it.

As China is increasingly being viewed by the US government as an adversarial nation, we should expect to see more and more criticism of the Chinese government in the mainstream press, since that’s how the system works.

The one thing that annoys me the most are all the gullible dupes who not only can’t see through this blatant hypocrisy, but are unwitting tools of it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: barking up the wrong tree

So have many other countries, including the United States and US allies.

And? The proper response is to criticize it whenever it pops up, not give countries like China a pass with ‘Well other countries engage in similar stuff’.

It’s simple:
Chinese censorship = Bad
US censorship = Bad
US ‘ally’ censorship = Bad
Any censorship = Bad

zip says:

Re: Re: barking up the wrong tree

“And? The proper response is to criticize it whenever it pops up, not give countries like China a pass with ‘Well other countries engage in similar stuff’.”

Censorship (to varying degrees) is practiced by the vast majority of countries on the planet. Yet there are only a few countries, such as Russia, China, and North Korea, that the US news media singles out for criticism. Is it sheer coincidence that these countries also happen to be considered military adversaries?

Among the nations of Africa are many of the most corrupt and repressive governments in the world, yet the press totally ignores the lot of them, except if and when the US government sees some strategic interest in getting involved — then the chorus of criticism starts.

Whatever says:

not understanding how it works

It’s pretty much par for the course, I guess. Most western people never really even try to understand China, how it works, or it’s history.

It’s not something you can understand in a short post or a commentary either. It’s a different mindset, a different group think or view of right and wrong. There is an understanding, deep in the people, that certain stones are just better left un-turned. The benefit of the knowledge of Tiananmen 25 years ago is somewhat less than the reality of the cohesive whole that is China.

It’s easy to apply standards and ethics of your part of the world and expect everyone else to do it your way. That’s the American way. Thankfully, it’s not everyone’s way.

zip says:

Re: not understanding how it works

We could compare the end of communism in China and the Soviet Union. Both gave up communism, but it’s worth noting that the countries that maintained an iron grip on totalitarianism prospered economically, while those that embraced “freedom” ended up with destroyed economies, and in many cases civil war.

There’s also the example of Singapore, which for many decades suffered from rather extreme authoritarianism — yet had the 2nd most prosperous economy in all of Asia.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: not understanding how it works

If you think China’s economy is prosperous, you’re not paying attention. They’ve been engaged in massive over-urbanization projects, building far more city infrastructure than anyone needs.

Have you heard of Ordos, the infamous Chinese city where no one lives? There are plenty more like it. They’ve created a real estate bubble like the one that crashed the US economy a few years back, only much, much bigger… and it’s in the early stages of collapsing right now. Their recent “prosperity” was every bit as fake as the US’s “prosperity” in the early 2000s, based on highly leveraged debt and insanely inflated assets. Give it a year or two for all the dust to settle and we’ll see how prosperous China really is when the lies propping up its economy are stripped away.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 not understanding how it works

Are you talking about zip? His was not a troll comment at all. I think it’s not exactly right to call him a troll in general, either. Just taking and arguing an opposing view is not being a troll — it’s something that is welcome and necessary. Spamming, being abusive or insulting, making incendiary comments for no reason other than to get people pissed off — that’s being a troll.

zip says:

Re: Re: Re:3 not understanding how it works

I will admit that I anger many people by taking an opposing viewpoint on certain issues. Looking back, I probably should have kept my mouth shut about things like the Iraq invasion, since all I accomplished by trying to educate people about what I knew, was to anger them and turn friends into enemies. It’s a line I will not cross again (except as an anonymous internet commenter) since learning that most people really don’t want to know the truth or have an intelligent debate on certain emotional topics.

It’s the “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” mentality that’s hard to fight against using facts, logic, and reason, on an issue in which there’s only one “acceptable opinion”. And once being branded a traitor, it makes no difference to be proven right at a later date — a person will always be considered a traitor, regardless, just for having dared oppose the country’s mad rush to war.

So in this case, I’m not surprised that arguing against the demonization of China would draw an angry response — I’ve been through much worse before.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re: not understanding how it works

Like it or not, the Chinese economy continues to grow at a decent pace, 7.5% for this year is pretty much the line, obviously down from the 10-20% years but still moving forward at a quite a good pace. That much economic gain in the US would be considered a massive boom.

There are situations in China where they have over built or built where there is no need, but that is part of the process of learning about capitalism versus socialism. In the past, something built in the middle of nowhere would have been filled by government decree. Now it’s empty and staying that way because the people have the right to choose and they choose not to be there.

Just like any economy that grows to quickly, the pull back will expose some ad choices. However, China is still the world’s manufacturing center, the place where all of those wonderful discounted things come from. The US (and many Western counties) need China way more than China needs them. The success and failure of China is entirely, completely interwined with your own, so cheering them to fail is to cheer your own failure.

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