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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  1. identicon
    zip, 4 Jun 2014 @ 7:06am

    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.

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