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Twenty years after Tiananmen

Posted by Richard on June 4, 2009

Stopping the tanks in Tiananmen SquareToday is the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. I didn't expect much, if any, acknowledgment from the U.S. government, which has recently displayed about zero interest in China's abysmal human rights record.

Hillary Clinton didn't bring it up when she went begging the Chinese to finance our exploding deficit. And Nancy Pelosi, who was expelled from China in 1991 for protesting Tiananmen (the only act of hers I can think of that elicits a "bravo!" from me), on her recent visit, was too busy schmoozing and blathering about "environmental rights" to mention human rights.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this

The Obama administration issued a rare public critique Wednesday of China, pressing Beijing to reveal how many protesters were killed in the government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 and to free any of those still imprisoned for their parts in the protests.

One day before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, the comments were a shift for the Obama administration, which has until now hesitated to question Beijing's human rights record. In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that human rights issues shouldn't be allowed to "interfere with" other key matters between the two countries, such as climate change and the global financial crisis.

Mrs. Clinton pressed China to "examine openly the darker events of its past" by providing a "public accounting of those killed, detained or missing" and freeing "all those still serving sentences in connection" with the protests.

The substance of the remarks echoed demands that U.S. officials have been making — in almost the same words — for years. In 2006, a State Department spokesman under George W. Bush urged China "to provide a full accounting of the thousands who were killed, detained or went missing and of the government's role in the massacre."

Personally, I'd prefer language like "the atrocities of its past" and "those murdered," along with a demand that the Chinese government end the repression and human rights abuses that continue to this day. But it's more than I expected.

Chinese netizens, meanwhile, are protesting the crackdown and censorship surrounding the occasion in a clever and subtle way:

Twenty years after the pro-democracy protests that claimed the lives of hundreds – or even thousands – of unarmed civilians in Beijing, a number of websites appear to be making a veiled protest at state censorship by referring to the date sarcastically as "Chinese Internet Maintenance Day".

Earlier this week the government blocked access to a number of popular western websites, in what was widely seen as way of controlling access to information about the events at Tiananmen Square. Among the sites that were screened out were photo-sharing website Flickr, Microsoft's Hotmail email service and the popular online messaging site Twitter.

A number of other sites appear to have gone down over recent days, however, in a move that may be part of an ad hoc anniversary protest online.

It is not clear whether any of the sites took down their services as a result of government pressure: most have had previous trouble with the authorities in Beijing, and reports suggest that many sites were told that they would face serious consequences if they published anything relating to the events of 4 June 1989.

But it was also suggested that the phrasing used by some of the websites indicates a subtle attack on the government.

While deliberate government action cannot be ruled out, more than 300 Chinese sites appear to have posted increasingly blasé maintenance messages on the anniversary.

"The Fanfou server is undergoing technical maintenance. Service is expected to resume before dawn on 6 June," said one message. On dictionary website, its owners said they had taken the site down for Chinese Internet Maintenance Day.

Blog hosting service, meanwhile, says it has gone "on strike" for the day, and carried a message saying: "I, too, am under maintenance!"

Here's to Chinese Internet Maintenance Day and the brave geeks commemorating it. 

UPDATE: They were allowed to remember in Hong Kong, and they did so in great numbers (emphasis in original): 

A vigil marking 20 years since the Tiananmen massacre has been held in Hong Kong, the only part of China to commemorate the event.

An estimated 150,000 people gathered in Victoria Park for the annual event, which was addressed by one of the 1989 student leaders, Xiong Yan.

Other Tiananmen veterans were banned from entering the territory.

When the UK returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, the territory retained its own legal system, including the right to protest.

Thursday's gathering saw the biggest turnout for a Tiananmen anniversary ever recorded in Hong Kong, the BBC's John Simpson reports.

If the Beijing government hoped that by clamping down on all commemoration in mainland China, they could make people forget what happened, they were very wrong, our correspondent says.

On the contrary, it has underlined the lack of political freedom that there still is in China.

RTWT and watch the moving one-minute video. Here's to the citizens of Hong Kong, courageously clinging to their heritage of liberty.



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