Remembering Tiananmen - Macleans.ca
 

Remembering Tiananmen

A cartoon has evoked June 1989


 

Chinese censors aren’t laughing. A cartoon published in a Chinese newspaper last week appears to refer to the violent crackdown in 1989 on protesters in Tiananmen Square. It shows a boy drawing a solitary figure standing in front of a series of three tanks on a school blackboard, echoing Tiananmen’s most iconic image: a lone man in a white shirt stopping a row of tanks by standing in front of them.

Defying a long-standing ban on mentioning the event, the outspoken Southern Metropolis Daily ran the drawing just days before the 21st anniversary on June 4. It was quickly pulled from the paper’s website, where it appeared among several others celebrating International Children’s Day on June 1. Observant readers soon began circulating and commenting on the cartoon (working around China’s so-called “Great Firewall”), no doubt raising the eyebrows of authorities.

China’s government still has not fully disclosed what happened when Chinese troops killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of students and workers who for weeks had gathered in the square to demand freedom.

Censoring has worked so well, in fact, that many young Chinese have never heard of the massacre. They might have questions now.


 

Remembering Tiananmen

  1. Question for experts in totalitarianism: How does one successfully explain to the population that one cannot discuss an event, under penalty of severe criminal sanction, without mentioning the event?

    Question for everyone else: Why do we travel there? Why do we design big dams for them?

    Question for the Greater Beijing Chamber of Commerce. I hear you keep Tiananmen immaculate for tourists. If my family visits, and my five-year-old son just happens to have a T-shirt with an image of a lone tiny stick figure with one arm pointing at three large cubes with wheels on their bottom surfaces and one pointy line sticking out of the top of each one, what do you suppose might happen to my son? to me? How about if his dad also just happened to be wearing a souvenir T-shirt from New York's Statue of Liberty? Can you let me know what the Mandarin characters would be for the translation of "because over a billion people deserve it" that just might get ironed on underneath Lady Liberty's torch? Once you answer these questions, then I might ask for hotel and restaurant recommendations, and the best way to go check out the Great Wall…

    • As a westerner in beijing, I can a assure you that you could do all of the things you just mentioned in tiananmen square, and no one would care.

      I'm not a supporter of the government here either, but why would we stop doing business with the chinese? China opening its economy to the world has lifted millions of chinese out of poverty and increased cultural contact and understanding between Chinese and westerners. Why punish regular people and ruin what progress has been made?

      I'm all for criticism and debate, but we need less fiery rhetoric and more cool headedness and genuine concern for others.

      • OK, C in C, why don't you place an image of Lady Liberty, heavily damaged by gunfire and the treads of an army tank, sadly looking down on corpses of college students. Write "Ask me about this historical event the government doesn't want us to talk about" on it in either Mandarin or Cantonese and march up and down the streets of Beijing or Shanghai. Do let us know how it goes.

        • That would be an interesting experiment. If you made enough of a fuss, or got the attention of the police, I could see you getting deported from the country, like the Canadians who unfurled the free tibet flag on the great wall a while back.

          Again, I'm a strong supporter of free speech, and by no means an apologist for the government.

          To answer your initial question ("How does one successfully explain to the population that one cannot discuss an event, under penalty of severe criminal sanction, without mentioning the event? "), they don't tell people that they can't discuss Tiananmen, they simply tell the government controlled press that they can't discuss tiananmen, and block or delete related info on the internet. Add that to the government controlled school curriculum, and the damage that a chinese person would do to their career by speaking out against the party, and you've got a pretty effective censorship system.

          • And if the grieving relative of an unofficially deceased college kid thanks to the did-not-happen bloodstained hands of the Army were to march with such a placard instead? Would he or she get deported? Or maybe — shudder — re-educated on the official version of the truth?

            If I wanted to, I could be the daily kook set up by the Centennial Flame with a lawn chair, a poster and a bunch of literature to hand out to anyone I could sucker into listening to my spiel about my cause. And I would far rather live in such a country. One might think a billion-odd people could get comfortable with freedom, too.

  2. Yes, much less advisable to carry out that sort of protest if you are actually Chinese.

    For us non-Chinese, its a good idea to be careful with the tone and target of Chinese political criticism. A lot of Chinese are under the impression that westerners not only dislike their government, but China in general. This misconception, caused by recklessness of westerners commentators, chinese censorship/propaganda, and language divide, makes it difficult to make legitimate criticisms.