Tiananmen 25: Tight Controls On Square and Online

The weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on Wednesday were marked by an unprecedented campaign of detentions, house arrests, forced or restricted travel, intimidation and surveillance. Those targeted included figures such as Tiananmen Mothers Zhang Xianling and Ding Zilin, activist Hu Jia, former Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang’s political secretary Bao Tong, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, journalist Gao Yu, and several dozen others. With the anniversary over, the question now arises of who among those detained will be freed, and who will be formally arrested and prosecuted. A few have already been released, Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee reports:

Liu Di and Hu Shigen, both dissident writers, and Xu Youyu, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, were released on bail, their lawyers and a relative said.

[…] “It goes without saying that he should have been let out,” Shang said. “Arresting someone for holding a meeting at home, this is too ridiculous. Prosecuting them for this will be even more outrageous.”

The activists had been detained on May 6 after they attended the meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the crushing of protests around Tiananmen Square. A photograph of the gathering had circulated on the Internet.

[…] Pu Zhiqiang, the best known activist and a leading rights lawyer, and Hao Jian, who teaches at the Beijing Film Academy, remained in custody. Hao had hosted the forum at his home. [Source]

The detentions of a lawyer, a news assistant and a former South China Morning Post journalist associated with Pu gave an earlier sign that authorities were preparing a prosecution against him.

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade, describing the results of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual members’ survey on Tuesday, wrote that foreign journalists had been warned of “serious consequences” for covering the anniversary. A group working for a French broadcaster was recently accosted for conducting street interviews about the iconic “Tank Man” photograph, he reported:

Within 10 minutes police showed up and ordered the French team into a police car and took them to police station. After an hour, public security officers arrived and interrogated them.

She said: “They separated us and questioned us for hours… The officer said, ‘You were speaking about a sensitive topic. You know that the topic is sensitive and the government don’t want people to speak about it.’

“I asked which Chinese law I broke. He answered, ‘It’s not a matter of law. It’s a matter of culture. The culture is above the law.’”

The team were released after six hours of interrogation. The next day they were questioned again and then had to appear before a video camera and admit they had done something “very sensitive” which could cause “disturbance”. [Source]

Nevertheless, several journalists, including The Globe and Mail’s Nathan VanderKlippe, AP’s Hélène Franchineau, CTV’s Janis Mackey Frayer, and the BBC’s Carrie Gracie, visited the square, and reported a heavy security presence:

From VanderKlippe’s fuller account at The Globe and Mail:

Police vehicles circle and armoured vehicles sit at the ready. Officers patrol on foot and ride electric cars through the crowds of tourists toting bright pink sun umbrellas, demanding to see identification. Less visible are the plainclothes officers, the young men in telltale golf shirts.

[…] Officers first ask for passports, then videotape them, then take multiple pictures with iPhones, which are then uploaded somewhere else. The video camera is then trained on the journalist as a plainclothes officer barks into a walkie-talkie.

When the check is over, an officer in a black “POLICE” T-shirt growls that photos of men in uniform are forbidden, and any interviews must first be cleared by special Tiananmen Square authorities, as well as by the interviewee’s danwei, or administrative unit.

“It’s time for you to go,” a second officer then says. “There’s nothing to see here.” [Source]

Gracie’s 25 tweets can be seen together at BBC.com.

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs visited the square with a bike-mounted camera, which was detected but escaped confiscation:

See his footage at the Times’ anniversary liveblog.

Two reporters for the Los Angeles Times also attempted to enter the square. Only one was allowed in, before being escorted away after trying to interview a Chinese tourist. From Barbara Demick and Julie Makinen:

The line crept along for more than an hour. Police scrutinized each visitor’s national ID, checking each card with an electronic, hand-held scanner. Old women were body-wanded with metal detectors. Backpacks were X-rayed.
 
A Times reporter and two visiting friends from the U.S. were turned away after officers examined their passports, using a walkie-talkie to radio a supervisor with their visa numbers.

“You know why,” said one officer. “Come back tomorrow.”

[…] “Don’t you think it is a bit strange today? The way people are staring at each other,” a young woman in a sundress asked her male companion as they waited in the security line.

“I heard something happened here,” the man replied. She said nothing in response, and the couple lapsed into silence. [Source]

A surprising presence near the square the previous day was the authorities’ fifth most-wanted student protester Zhou Fengsuo, who returned from exile to mark the anniversary. Zhou also visited a detention center holding several activists before being detained, questioned and removed from the country. From Andrew Jacobs at The New York Times:

[… A] friend drove him around the city in what he described as a contemplative and highly emotional tour of the landmarks seared into his memory: Muxidi, the neighborhood where troops first opened fire; Jianguomen, where columns of tanks plowed through makeshift barricades; and Tiananmen Square, the place he spent so many days and nights as a 22-year-old student and one of the leaders of the protests.

Although he was tempted to get out of the car and make a public gesture, he knew it would be futile, given the cordon of police surrounding the square, Mr. Zhou said.

[…] Fearful that his trip might have been thwarted, Mr. Zhou said he had told nobody, not even his family. He said the decision to travel to China earlier this week was prompted by the arrest of Pu Zhiqiang, a legal defender, and four other people who attended the seminar commemorating the events of 1989. “I wanted to show some solidarity with my friends in prison and also with those who died 25 years ago,” he said. [Source]

Online, domestic news sites were ordered to “closely observe reporting discipline” under immediate supervision of “responsible editors”; social media and other sites were told to “strictly delete information about redressing and commemorating June 4th (including so-called sideways expressions). Anyone found to be violating discipline during this inspection will be severely punished.”

On Weibo, censors deleted tweets and blocked search terms. Jason Q. Ng gathered sixty-four blocked searches for “sideways expressions” that had evolved to dodge censorship: for example, variations on 6/4 or June 4th using Chinese characters, pinyin, English, French, Roman and Arabic numerals, homophones, graphical similarities and allusions, alone or in various combinations:

  • JUNE 4
  • liu四: phonetic for 6-4
  • 六四: 6-4
  • ⅥⅣ: Roman numerals for 6-4
  • 陆肆: sounds like “liu si,” homophone for June 4
  • 五月三十五: May 35, aka June 4
  • six四: 6-4
  • six four
  • six quatre: 6-4
  • liusi: Six four
  • 六si: Six four
  • 六four: Six four
  • 六肆: June 4
  • 八平方: 8 squared (that is, 64)
  • 三月九十六号: March 96th (June 4)
  • 六4: 6-4
  • 六亖: June 4 coded keyword
  • six4: June 4
  • 陆四: June 4 coded keyword [Source]

At Language Log, Victor Mair posted other code terms including:

  • 己巳月+乙未日: Jisi month+Yiwei day. In the traditional 60-year cycle, the first term is equivalent to May-June 1989, the second to a number of dates in the same year including June 4.
  • 63+1
  • 65-1 [Source]

Fei Chang Dao pointed out yet another variation, liǔsī 柳丝 or “willow silk,” another homophone. Similar terms were also blocked from Baidu’s search; a tool at Quartz demonstrates this with side-by-side comparisons of Google (U.S.) and Baidu image search results for sensitive terms. Some on Weibo, Amy Qin reported at The New York Times, evaded censorship with less direct references:

Here’s one, which reads in translation:

I remained silent all night. I don’t dare look straight at the rising sun. I remember the sun that day was blood red, blood red, like a wide-open, bloodshot eye.

And another:

I was there on that day. I saw a lot, but cannot say much even after so many years. I keep thinking of a poem by Lu Xun: I lower my head. How can I write out these lines? / Moonlight like water shines on my dark garment. [Source]

Last week, Tulletilsynet described an even subtler technique of allusion by omission found in a book on the history of the 1980s published in January. See more on online censorship surrounding the anniversary in CDT’s Ministry of Truth directives, Sensitive Words series, and summary at The World Post.

Without such selective control over international TV broadcasts, the censors took a less discriminating approach:

On the other hand:

Still more traditional methods were wielded against paper publications:

Guo Jian was detained shortly after the Financial Times interview was published. In it, he explained his recent creation of a model of Tiananmen Square covered in 160 kilograms of gradually rotting meat. “I wanted to do something privately to mark the anniversary,” he said. “But I should have covered [the diorama] in plastic first. It would have been easier to clean up.”

See more on Tiananmen in Chinese art from William Wan at The Washington Post.

There was little need to tear pages out of domestic newspapers, Didi Kirsten Tatlow reported at The New York Times’ liveblog:

Today’s headline in The Beijing News: “For First Time, Armed Police to Patrol the Gaokao,” or university entrance examinations, in reaction to recent violent attacks. Also on page one: “Low-Quality Toilet Paper is Being Investigated.”

In Jinghua News: “12 Roads Given Green Light as ‘Examination Roads’,” and, “All Military and Party Officials Prohibited from Entering Private Clubs,” part of a crackdown on corruption.

People’s Daily leads with a speech by President Xi Jinping. The Beijing Morning News reports that 5 million renminbi in environmental fines was collected between January and May. China Youth Daily’s headline promises “China to Make Creativity a Strategic National Development Path.” [Source]

The People’s Liberation Army Daily made no explicit reference to the anniversary, but did publish an editorial which appeared to allude to it: “There are many options for safeguarding national security, including political, economic and foreign policy means, but military means is always the bottom-line method and the last option.” In another possible allusion, state-run Global Times’ Chinese edition accused “anti-China forces in the West [of] making every possible effort to harm China […,] actively provoking trouble for China recently and being very emotional.” State news agency Xinhua, though, reported Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei’s retort to a statement on the anniversary by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. Hong also responded to statements from the U.S. and Japan, saying that Washington had shown “a total disregard of fact,” and “blamed the Chinese government for no reason.” The previous day, he had told reporters that the issue of June 4th had long since been resolved, as “the Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s.”