River Crabs and May 35th


A sadly comic approach to circumventing Chinese censorship is seen in this version of the famous “Tank Man” photo of June, 1989.  Photo links to Asaf Uni’s article in Vocative.

Internet censors — known in China’s censorship circumventing code as “river crabs” — will be out in full force over the next few weeks. People will be arrested, protests will be thwarted,  and there may even be a few executions.

The mere mention of June 4, 1989 — sometimes called May 35th — brings on the censors and the police.

It is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, when the army attacked peaceful protesters in Beijing.

An official death toll has never been released, although estimates range from hundreds to thousands. Nor has there been any accounting whatsoever of the dozens who were executed following secret trials for taking part in the peaceful protests.

One of the most interesting articles on the massacre ever was written May 21 for Vocative by   describing the many tactics of Chinese people trying to elude censorship.

Another one is this June 1, 2014 New York Times article:

The Tiananmen crackdown “is absolutely crucial to understanding the way press censorship works today,” said David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University. “The notion was that you have to control public opinion through media control to maintain social and political stability.”

Commentators who hoped the rise of satellite TV, the Internet and social media would loosen the party’s monopoly on power were disappointed. As millions of Chinese went online and acquired smartphones, Beijing spent heavily to develop high-tech filters.

The size and cost of official censorship efforts is secret but China is believed to operate the world’s most extensive system of monitoring and filters.

Each year ahead of June 4, mobile phone users engage in a cat-and-mouse competition with telecom carriers as they try to find new code words to evoke the anniversary in messages — such as calling the date May 35th — while censors try to detect and block them.

Even so, 25 years out,  you get the sense that censorship over the long term won’t be possible.    As much as the Chinese government  would like to prevent it, the tragedy cannot be forgotten.  In fact, they will have achieved the opposite:  The more they repress, the more backlash they will face, the deeper ingrained the truth will become.

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, We “have sworn upon the altar of God,  eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”     

UPDATE:   “Why China bans Winnie the Pooh,” BBC, July 17, 2017

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