China obstructs talk of Tiananmen on internet sites


WITH TENSIONS high ahead of a leadership transition this year, Chinese authorities have blocked internet access to search terms related to the 23rd anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The massacre of student demonstrators and other democracy activists in Beijing on June 4th, 1989, is still not a subject open for public debate in China, and the government has engaged plenty of resources to stopping online discussions about the unrest.

Blocked expressions included numbers like “six four” and “23”, while “candle”, “blood” as in “bloody suppression” and “mourn” also did not show up anything when typed into Chinese search engines.

Sina Weibo, which is China’s biggest microblogging platform, even blocked the candle emoticon.

Authorities have also implemented what they call “wartime” security measures in the more sensitive parts of Beijing, and stepped up surveillance on dissidents and their families.

The Chinese government’s official line is that the Tiananmen Square crackdown was necessary to ensure the stability of the country.

It has always flatly rejected any effort to hold an inquiry into what happened, who was responsible or even give an idea of how many people died.

One of the odder events of the day took place on the Shanghai stock exchange. Numbers have strong significance in China.

In apartment buildings, for example, floor numbers skip the number “four” because it is a homonym for the word for “death”.

So there was some surprise when trading on the benchmark Shanghai Composite started at 2346.98 yesterday – if you read this backwards you get a reference to “4.6” which is the date of the crackdown and “23”, which refers to the anniversary.

This might seem a stretch, but those same numbers are banned on websites at this time of year.

Even weirder, when the index closed, it was down 64.89 points. A powerful coincidence which prompted all kinds of chatter.

Subsequently the expression “Shanghai stock exchange” was banned from microblogs like Sina Weibo.

Asked at a regular briefing if the government was considering changing its stance on June 4th, the foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: “I just knew you would ask this question.

“The political case you mentioned was concluded long ago by the ruling party and government.”

This year the anniversary is particularly sensitive because the ruling Communist Party is planning a leadership rotation in the autumn, with Xi Jinping set to take over from President Hu Jintao.

On Sunday, a US state department spokesman issued its annual statement urging the Chinese government to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, a request that China has described as “crude interference in China’s internal affairs”.

Some users managed to upload a few pictures on to Sina Weibo.

The Shanghaiist blog ran some photographs posted by the blogger-activist Zola Zhou.

One showed a soldier on Tiananmen Square the day after the crackdown, holding a damaged machine gun amid the devastation, while another has a soldier pointing his machine gun in the direction of the square.

While people don’t talk, Beijing local people certainly haven’t forgotten the events.

In a bank on Chang’an Avenue opposite the diplomatic compound where I live – and both my compound and the one beside it were strafed by bullets during the crackdown – a man was explaining to his colleague how the soldiers had shot at the buildings on the street on the day.