Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ooops! Young clerk let Tiananmen ad slip past censors


Well, I have to say I'm a little bit bitter because my friends in China say they can't view my blog from there (what have I said?) My feeling on this is "serves them right"! (So, if my blog wasn't barred before, it definitely will be now.)

I was in China around the time of the 15th year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. I was in my hotel room getting ready to start my day. I had the TV tuned to CNN and they were doing a retrospective on the events that lead up to so many dying in Tiananmen square.

Suddenly, the TV switched off. Well, I thought it switched off, but the censors had caught the broadcast and simply shut it off. I mean I've heard of Tiananmen square and I remembered the coverage when it happened in 1989, so I wasn't even phased when it came on. Then I remembered, "oh yeah, I'm in the People's Republic of China".

It only took a second to confirm that thought as all the other electronics were working just fine. That's when it hit me that my experience of China is definitely not the way its citizens experience it. I flew in to a big bustling city, took a taxi from the airport to to my hotel and was amazed that what I was seeing was supposed to be a communist nation. I figured these censors I never see were hard at work controlling the information the people of China see. That was a sobering moment.

There are many people in China who don't know what happened at Tiananmen square in 1989. I do remember seeking the square out specifically when I was in Beijing about a year later because I knew what had occured. I went there and walked around trying to imagine what it would have been like to be there. I knew that a lot of the young people around me had no idea why the square was interesting to me since all it's just a big open space and the more interesting Forbidden Palace, Mao's tomb and his huge portrait are just steps away.

So between knowing that China censors my blog AND once cut off a CNN broadcast I was watching due to content, I had to laugh when I read this news headline:

Young clerk let Tiananmen ad slip past censors

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A young clerk with no knowledge of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown allowed a tribute to victims slip into the classified ads page of a newspaper in southwest China, a Hong Kong daily reported on Wednesday.

The tiny ad in the lower right corner of page 14 of the Chengdu Evening News on Monday night, read: "Paying tribute to the strong(-willed) mothers of June 4 victims".

An investigation was launched by Chinese authorities to find out how the advertisement slipped its way past censors.

Public discussion of the massacre is still taboo in Beijing and the government has rejected calls to overturn the verdict that the student-led demonstrations were "counter-revolutionary", or subversive. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed when the army crushed the pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said a young woman on the Chengdu Evening News classified section had allowed the ad to be published because she'd never heard of the June 4 crackdown.

A man gave the advertisement to the clerk, who had recently graduated and worked for an advertising company responsible for receiving content for the ads section, the Post reported.

"She called the man back two days later to check what June 4 meant and the man said it was (a date on which) a mining disaster took place," the Post quoted a source at the paper as saying.

"This highlights (the fact) that the government needs to face up to history," the paper quoted the source as saying.

References to the massacre are barred in state media, the Internet and printed works, meaning many of China's younger generation are ignorant of the events.

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