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Tiananmen Square

Sites Blocked, Security High for Tiananmen Anniversary

June 03, 2009 06:33 PM
by Cara McDonough
As China prepares for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings, the government appears to be taking major precautions, including an Internet blackout on some sites.

Commemorations Planned, Security High

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Internet users flooded Chinese online chat rooms Tuesday to discuss a suspected blackout on social networking site Twitter and MSN’s e-mail service Hotmail. Not all, however, were shocked by the incident.

"The whole Twitter community in China has been exploding with it," Beijing-based technology commentator Kaiser Kuo told Reuters. "It's just part of life here. If anything surprises me, it's that it took them so long."

Anniversary commemorations of Tiananmen Square—where hundreds or possibly thousands of people died after a government crackdown on protestors in 1989—are illegal in China, but crowds gather each year for a vigil in Hong Kong, “a former British colony that enjoys greater freedom,” according to the story. There have also been calls for a reevaluation of the protest movement published online; some believe this may have prompted the blackout.
Beyond the Internet, the government is taking other precautionary steps in the days before the anniversary. According to the BBC, police have been examining visitors at checkpoints around the Square, and checking the bags and papers of people in the nearby area.

The BBC reports that even in Hong Kong, “some dissidents have been denied entry.” Xiang Xiaoji, now a United States citizen, was attempting to get to Hong Kong to attend commemorative events, but was turned away and sent back to New York. Protest leader Wu'er Kaixi flew from his home in Taiwan to Macau on Wednesday and was detained when he arrived.

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Related Topic: China, the Internet and the 2008 Olympics

In July 2008, reports surfaced that China had blocked media access to certain Web sites, despite previously stating that foreign journalists would be able to report freely on the Olympic games.

Journalists in the Olympic village in China were blocked from “sites deemed sensitive to [China’s] communist leadership,” including Amnesty International, which had released a report denigrating China for human rights violations.

Despite these efforts, some bloggers found ways to bypass government censorship. China’s advanced Web censor, known as the “Great Firewall,” automatically tracks objectionable phrases. But bloggers found that some methods, including writing backwards, enabled them to circumvent the censor and get their message out.

Background: Tiananmen Square

To this day, no one knows how many people were killed in the massacre at Tiananmen Square. On June 4, 1989, hundreds or even thousands of people were killed when the Chinese army crushed a prodemocracy demonstration in the Square in Beijing.

Protestors had gathered there following the death of Hu Yoabang, former General Secretary of the Communist Party; students viewed him as a representative of change.

The Chinese government says that 241 people died and 7,000 were wounded over the next two days, although the Chinese Red Cross initially put the death toll at 2,600. China’s government received condemnation from around the world after the incident, but still maintains that it was stopping a potential uprising.

Opinion & Analysis: Remembering Tiananmen Square

For the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings, The New York Times asked four writers who were students or working there at the time to reflect on the events.

Yu Hua, who was a 30-year-old student at the time, writes that “most important of all, I realize now that the spring of 1989 was the only time I fully understood the words ‘the people.’ Those words have little meaning in China today.”

To prove that point, he writes of the students who poured into Beijing from other parts of the country in the days leading up to the June 4 protest. “Their audience—whether wizened old men or mothers with babies in their arms—nodded repeatedly and applauded warmly,” he writes.
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