Thursday, 7 June 2007

Classified advert breaks Tiananmen taboo

Jane Macartney in Beijing
It was a single line of a classified advertisement in a local newspaper. But to Communist Party officials it represented an outrageous act of defiance against a strict ban on references to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The advertisement at the bottom right-hand corner of page 14 of the Chengdu Evening News on June 4 read simply: “Saluting the strong-willed mothers of June 4 victims.”

The date was written with the numbers 6 and 4 in Roman characters.

Few Chinese dare to mention the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which hundreds of people were killed when the army moved into the heart of Beijing in the early hours of June 4, 1989, to recover the huge plaza that been occupied for weeks by students demanding greater democracy and an end to corruption. When they do, it is usually referred to simply as 6/4.

The message was accepted by a young clerk at an advertising department who was, apparently, unaware of the significance of the date. The woman’s age was not known but she was reported to be a recent school-leaver. She took down the advertisement from a man who visited the company on May 30.

A source told the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong: “She called the man back two days later to check what June 4 meant and the man said it was [a date that] a mining accident took place.”

State security officials tried to pull all unsold copies of the Chengu Evening News off the street, and all company staff were taken away for questioning.

Chinese newspaper editors fired over Tiananmen Square ad
Jonathan Watts in Beijing - Guardian Unlimited
A Chinese newspaper has fired three editors for failing to censor a one-line classified advertisement that paid tribute to the mothers of protesters killed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Breaking one of the state's strongest political taboos, the obscurely worded advertisement was slipped into the Chengdu Evening News on Monday, the 18th anniversary of the bloody crackdown.

Its publication shows how commercialism, ignorance and technology have created chinks in the one-party state's block on information.

Six-four (June 4) is the most commonly used expression for the crackdown on that day in 1989, when hundreds, possibly thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators and their supporters were killed by People's Liberation Army tanks and troops.

The government insists the actions were necessary to restore order, but it has blocked all public debate on the issue and continues to hold some of the protesters in prison.

Despite, the ban, several mothers of the victims have defiantly called for an open investigation of the killings.

But some young Chinese have little or no knowledge of the massacre. According to the South China Morning Post, a young female clerk - responsible for vetting ads in the Chengdu Evening News - allowed the tribute to be published because she was unaware of the significance of 64. When she phoned the person who placed the ad to ask, he reportedly told her it was the date of a mining disaster.

The daring message was quickly spotted, scanned and circulated on the internet before the authorities intervened. Copies of the newspaper were withdrawn from kiosks and an investigation team was sent to the paper's headquarters in Sichuan's provincial capital.