“Banned in China on Tiananmen anniversary: 6, 4, 89 and today”

Mark MacKinnon on what the censors did to hide history today:

Each year, the Communist Party’s censors go to remarkable lengths to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing, or spreading, their memories of what happened on June 4, 1989, when an unknown number of people were killed during a military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the centre of Beijing. Since Sunday night, even simple numbers like 6 (the month of June), 4 (the date) and 89 have been banned search terms on Chinese social-networking sites.

And so all day today users in China got bizarre replies from their search engines. “According to the relevant laws and policies, the results of your search ‘89’ cannot be displayed,” was the head-shaker I just read on my own screen. Typing “Tiananmen Square” – in English or Chinese – gets the same answer on the popular Sina Weibo site, which boasts over 300 million users. Pity the poor tourist just trying to find the plaza in the middle of the Chinese capital.

Eventually even “jintian” – the Chinese word for “today” – was a banned search term on such social networking sites, as the powers and weaknesses of those who rule China were simultaneously displayed.

Chinese Internet users are a wily bunch. Last year, they briefly evaded censors by referring to the date of the crackdown as “May 35th” rather than June 4th, a move that forced the conversation-killers to ban a non-existent date this year.

The censors subsequently decided that even some non-words pose a threat, disabling a function on Sina Weibo that allowed users to post a tiny drawing (or “emoticon”) of a candle.

And some things will always remain beyond the control of even China’s hard-working censors.

The weakening outlook for the global economy hit Asian markets hard Monday. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was among those that saw losses, falling precisely 64.89 in trading – a random reminder of the very anniversary Beijing was working so hard to help people forget.

Those who saw the data might have recognized the familiar numbers. But they would have had to be quick. Shortly after trading ended, the words “Shanghai Composite Index” temporarily joined China’s long list of banned terms.

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