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.


Filed Under: censorship, china, free speech, tiananmen square


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2014 @ 3:49am

    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.:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pt2d4iTgbLs

    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.

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