Tiananmen Square: "Great Firewall" all but hides the 24th anniversary of China massacre

Chinese residents check a burning armoured personnel carrier which was set on fire by rioters when the army opened fire on civilians, June 4, 1989 near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On the night June 3-4, 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. In a show of force, China leaders vented their fury and frustration on student dissidents and their pro-democracy supporters. Several hundred people have been killed and thousands wounded when soldiers moved on Tiananmen Square during a violent military crackdown ending six weeks of student demonstrations, known as the Beijing Spring movement. Tommy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images

BEIJING It's still quietly referred to as "the anniversary" here. If you search for the words "Tiananmen Square" on the Internet in China, you likely won't find anything. Even on Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, where Chinese are increasingly turning to speak their minds, there is little mention of Tiananmen. In fact, on social media, those words have been blocked by the country's censors.

It's not just "Tiananmen" that has been blocked on Weibo. The words: "today" and "June 4th" and even the Chinese characters for the date/number combination "6-4" have been blocked. If you search on Weibo for any of those terms you get the response: "according to relevant law, regulation and policy, search results are not displayed."

Today, June 4th, is the 24th anniversary of the brutal massacre in the center of Beijing, where troops with tanks and assault rifles cracked down on student protesters who opposed the government and had set up camp in Tiananmen Square. So many details are still shrouded in mystery that even the death toll remains unclear, and unconfirmed. Several hundred are believed to have been killed.

In an age when the Chinese are finding their voices, there is enforced silence when it comes to Tiananmen Square. Of course, there's casual chatter in cafes, offices, and in taxicabs, but officially -- and electronically -- it's quiet.

Compare that to a story we reported earlier this week. We looked at a series of newspaper columns that had been called "Dishonest Americans". It appeared in the online version of "The People's Daily," the media mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. The mission of the series, according to its original sub-headline, was to, "unveil some incidents... to provide a more objective picture of what the U.S. and Americans are really like."

Michael Anti, a freelance journalist and blogger who -- as his adopted name suggests -- often speaks out against the government, told us he felt the series was blatant propaganda.

"Demoniz[ing] Americans is part of [the] job of propaganda," he told us. The series prompted rampant online ridicule. Anti told us that tech-savvy Chinese readers saw right through it.

But Tiananmen, even 24 years later, is an issue that still seems too hot to touch.

Authorities have asked around with local Chinese news producers, trying to figure out which media outlets planned Tiananmen Square stories. The topic can be "off-limits" for these Chinese producers who work with foreign news organizations.

Television news channels such as CNN and the BBC are available on satellite TV in China. But today, when stories have come up about the Tiananmen anniversary, the screens go black and only return to a picture when coverage turns to more benign topics like the 60th anniversary of the coronation of the Queen of England.

If you want information on the massacre in Tiananmen Square you can find it. Anyone in China can get around the "Great Firewall" by shelling out roughly $6 per month for a "VPN," or "virtual private network," which allows a web user to connect to the Internet as though he or she is in another country.

Even in the interconnected world of VPNs and Weibo, however, there is remarkably little said in China about today's anniversary; a mixture, perhaps, of government censorship, and self-censorship, too.

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