30 years on and the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still heavily censored

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This photo depicts the aftermath of the massacre. An unidentified man blocked the passage of tanks leaving the square the next day. His fate is unknown.



June the 4th marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and there is little trace of it on the Chinese internet.

Any mention of the massacre has been blocked in China and sharing images has led to criminal convictions.

It is one of the most prominent examples of state censorship and wiping history in modern times.

Ten years ago, the subject was reportedly reasonably well known amongst the youth in China.

A Wikileaks report suggests that a million people had watched The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a documentary on the events that people had smuggled in from Hong Kong.

In the past decade, censorship has become stronger, and people worry that knowledge of the events is decreasing.

A search on the Chinese equivalent of Google, Baidu, shows no positive results except for a single article claiming it never happened.

China is internationally recognised for its heavily state-controlled media, and internet censorship, aptly named “The Great Firewall of China”.

According to Reuters, this firewall has been working overdrive in the leadup to this significant anniversary.

On Sunday, China’s Defence, Minister Wei Fenghe, justified the government crackdown on the protesters in a rare acknowledgement that something happened that day.

He claimed that: “The government was decisive in stopping the turbulence.”

China is 177th out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, 2019.

It is the largest country in the world by population and is run by the Communist Party of China.

The Bejing massacre started as a pro-democracy protest against the government.

It was manned mainly by students, gathered in the square, who demanded freedom of the press and free speech.

The military leaders ordered an assault on the protesters leading to a death toll estimated between several hundred to over ten thousand.

The massacre was reported to have included the military gunning down the protesters and driving over them with tanks.

Tiananmen Square, Bejing, 1988. This image was taken roughly one year before the massacre. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2013, the Hong Kong 01, reported on a declassified British diplomatic cable which revealed the use of bayonets.

The cable also described armoured vehicles rolling over the bodies repeatedly before the remains were hosed into the drains.

Few images made it out, but those that have are well-recognised symbols of oppression.

A quick search on Baidu, China’s own Google-like search engine, shows no results about the 1989 slaughter apart from pages “debunking” it.

One may think that such a historical event would perhaps be indicated on its tourism page, but the website “This Is Bejing” has nothing of the sort.

In December 2003, two men who planned a mass protest in the square were arrested.

This is underpinned by China’s heavily criticised constitutional definition of their right to assembly which, according to Freedom House, states that:

“Article 35 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of assembly, but Article 51 states that its exercise “may not infringe upon the interests of the state.” “

Earlier this year, it was announced that Reddit was going to receive a $150M investment from Chinese company Tencent.

Tencent is not just a corporate behemoth in Asia; it is also largely responsible for The Great Firewall of China.

This led many people in the Reddit userbase to post about Tiananmen Square in protest, worrying that the site would see certain content censored to appease the investors.

Reddit, however, is banned in China anyway.

Fears of companies bowing down to Chinese pressure aren’t unfounded.

More recently, the Hong Kong Free Press reported that Apple Music had removed a song by singer Jacky Cheung.

Jacky Cheung has seen his music removed from the Apple Music China service. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The song in question was revealed to reference the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.

Jacky Cheung is not the only musician to be removed from Apple Music China.