China’s war against free speech

June 6, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

You may have read that this week that the Chinese Government blocked Twitter, Flickr and other sites such as YouTube and Bing. This was to stop any form of discussion about the 20th anniversary of democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. The repression continued when Wu Gaoxing (a dissident jailed for his part in the Tiananmen movement) was hauled off last week by Chinese authorities and his computer confiscated. His crime?  Writing a letter claiming that some of the dissidents involved in the Tiananmen movement had been singled out for economic hardship over the last 20 years.

Yahoo! got it right when they said in response to the blocking:

We understand the Chinese government is blocking access to Flickr and other international sites, though the government has not issued any explanation. We believe a broad restriction without a legal basis is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.”

I’m not sure if other search engine companies or social networking sites spoke out publicly against such blatant censorship by the Chinese.

I tasted a bit of this repression. With two other women, I am involved in fiction writing – we are writing a novel collaboratively. One woman is in Texas, the other woman (an American) is in China. This week she was blocked from the site we use for our writing. What amazed me was the speed with which those outside China came to the aid of those behind the repressive wall. Within hours, a help forum on the site had offered suggestions on how to use proxy servers, VPNs and access codes to bypass the blocking.  I used Herdict to get a real-time report on web accessbility in China (this site’s name is a combination of “herd” and “verdict” and tracks which sites are down or blocked on the internet).

Meanwhile, my writing companion sent this email (she had intermittent email access):

“The country I live in has blocked Flickr and other public forums because the 20th anniversary of a dark dark event is tomorrow. I’m trying to get around with proxy servers. I urge everyone who lives in a country with freedom of media, speech and assembly to take some time and consciously experience some gratitude for this condition. All hail governments not based on fear and control.”

But China’s efforts to erase the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre only helps attract attention to that dark event. We will not forget what happened.  Here are some great links to remind us:

  • an Op-Ed from the NY Times featuring four writers, who were students or working at the time, reflecting on Tiananmen Square.
  • China’s Forgotten Revolution by Yu Hua.  The author says: “.. after the summer of 1989 the incident vanished from the Chinese news media. As a result, few young Chinese know anything about it.”
  • the reflections of a Chinese student and a foreign correspondent (ABC radio transcript)
  • Voice of America editorial.
  • Wall Street Journal Asia on Tiananmen and democracy
  • Wall Street Journal – US asks China to account for Tiananmen deaths.
  • Time magazine 1998 article “The Unknown Rebel”, which recognised the brave man in front of the tanks as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century.

On Twitter, a Chinese user, Junde, created a cartoon showing the Twitter bird gagged and in the clutches of a crab’s claw (I read somewhere that the crab is a symbol for censorship used by Chinese with access to the internet).

My friend, still beind the repressive firewall, sent me photos with captions such as the one below and the photo accompanying this blog post:

China in many ways is very different from 20 years ago. It has made enormous progress economically. But if it is to be a global leader, IMHO China needs to examine this dark phase of its history instead of trying to erase the collective memories of its people and blocking its netizens from internet sites.  20 years on, prisoners are still being detained for their involvement in Tiananmen Square. There should be a public accounting for those responsible and China should be allowed to publicly mourn for the many who were killed or arrested.

I leave you today with the words of my friend in China:

“Today, on the 20th anniversary of the events the government is still holding from its people, I see that the Chinese use of “outside” is perfectly correct in this country. At this time, more than any other in my nine years in China, I am “inside” China. I am inside China the same way that something can be put inside a box. I am inside China the way my class is inside the classroom. I am inside China the way a person can be put inside a jail.

The Chinese, in using English, refer to the time when Deng Xiaoping came to power and invited relationships with other countries after more than thirty years of isolation as “When China opened its doors”. I have always felt that this term, along with “inside”, as slightly antique and faulty use of the English language. Today in China’s media crack-down, I stand corrected. China has again closed its doors. The more than 50,000 Internet Police have slammed them shut, blocking the online public forums, including Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Opera, WordPress, Blogger and Flickr”.

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Entry filed under: China, Flickr. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. eva  |  June 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I greatly enjoyed reading your article and especially appreciate your appeal for mainland Chinese to be able to publicly remember the Tiananmen massacre and those who were so brutally killed. About the crab. In Putonghua, both ‘river crab’ and ‘harmony’ has ‘hexie’ for their phonetic transcription. It’s Chinese netizens’ way of mocking the leadership for iron-fist control in the name of harmony. Thank you for posting that cartoon. I hope Twitter has been allowed to fly free now that June 3-4 have passed. You were right. By trying to cover up, the authority was actually creating interest in the event. They can be so stu…..

    Reply
  • 2. thinkingshift  |  June 14, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    thx Eva for the information about the crab – my friend in China tells me that access to Flickr, Twitter etc is still intermittent.

    Reply

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