The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
All websites: on the death of Yuan Mu, only republish information from authoritative media such as Xinhua and People’s Daily. Delete all other information without exception, and remove harmful messages. (December 17, 2018) [Chinese]
Former State Council spokesman Yuan Mu, who notoriously downplayed casualties from the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, died last Thursday. From Kris Cheng at Hong Kong Free Press:
“I didn’t say that no casualties resulted from our efforts to put down the counter-revolutionary rebellion. I only said that no-one died when the [People’s Liberation Army] cleared the Tiananmen Square,” Yuan said.
“As for the entire process of putting down the counter-revolutionary rebellion… some thugs died and some onlookers were also killed or wounded… and also the PLA suffered huge casualties.”
[…] Yuan’s remarks were famously satirised by Hong Kong Director Wong Jing’s 1991 film Tricky Brains, in which actor Stephen Chow said “Yuan Mu is very honest, Li Peng is our greatest leader on earth.” Li Peng was the Chinese premier in 1989.
“Despite his sinister appearance, he was only a spokesperson, a low-level official,” Ho said.
“He was representing the country, the regime, the government that ordered the killings. It was the regime who was shameful by instructing him to lie.” [Source]
Finally found a clip of Wong Jing and Stephen Chow satirising Yuan Mu https://t.co/bimn76iWjE
— Kris Cheng (@krislc) December 17, 2018
Robin Munro, who witnessed the crackdown while working for Human Rights Watch, examined the selective truth of claims like Yuan’s in an essay for The Nation:
[…] A massacre did take place—but not in Tiananmen Square, and not predominantly of students. The great majority of those who died (perhaps as many as a thousand in all) were workers, or laobaixing (“common folk,” or “old hundred names”), and they died mainly on the approach roads in western Beijing. Several dozen people died in the immediate environs of the square and a few in the square itself. But to speak of that as the real massacre distorts the citywide nature of the carnage and diminishes the real political drama that unfolded in Tiananmen Square.
[…] Lao Gui should have the last word: “Because of hatred of the murderer, one sometimes cannot resist exaggerating the severity of the crime. This is understandable. . . . But those butchers then take advantage of this opportunity ‘to clarify the truth,’ using one truth to cover up ten falsehoods. They exploit the fact that no one died during the clearing of Tiananmen Square to conceal the truth that some deaths and injuries did occur there earlier. And they use the fact that there was no bloodbath in Tiananmen Square to cover up the truth about the bloodbaths in Muxidi, Nanchizi and Liubukou. Why do we give them such an opportunity?” [Source]
HKFP’s Cheng noted that The Paper, which broke the news of Yuan’s death, has since removed its report. The New York Times’ Chris Buckley similarly observed:
Chinese media are being extraordinarily skittish about reporting the death of Yuan Mu, the spokesman for the government during and after the 1989 protests and armed crackdown. Reports have gone up then been pulled down. Could they be wrong? Nerves over the 30th anniversary? pic.twitter.com/4eICzyJHis
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) December 17, 2018
FreeWeibo’s database of deleted posts (which is not comprehensive) includes an announcement of Yuan’s death from the Jinan Times, as well as many other previously deleted references. Weibo searches for Yuan’s name have been blocked in the past.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth