Tianamen’s ghost alive and well; Foursquare banned in China

Gady Epstein on China’s decision yesterday to ban Foursquare nationwide after it was used to arrange gatherings at Tiananmen Square:

The blocking of Foursquare, while perhaps temporary, is yet another reminder that the Communist Party of China is serious about controlling history, as I wrote about last year at this time, and is just as serious about controlling the dangers of Web 2.0. Chinese social networking services are in self-censorship mode today — in the case of the portal Sina, even removing emoticons of candles and flowers from its microblog. To some extent the party’s strategy has been successful: Many in China, especially younger generations, have little clue what happened 21 years ago on June 4. Of those that do remember, some unknown percentage — perhaps a quite high percentage — have chosen not to care too deeply, a sort of willed forgetting in service of today’s prosperity that author Chan Koon Chung broaches in his Chinese novel “The Fat Years.”

….Those who choose to remember, meanwhile, continue to do so today — in various ways on the Chinese Internet, quite brazenly on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook for those who use a VPN or proxy service to get around the Great Firewall, and many in their own quiet ways offline. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s issued a statement today, translated here, asking that Beijing “sincerely confront the major human rights incident of June Fourth.” Hong Kong holds its annual march and candlelight vigil tonight. Up to 50,000 people there are expected to show that they choose not to forget.

All of those who insist the Chinese people don’t care about this anymore leave out this key point: today’s apathy and indifference toward the incident is government-induced. Epstein in the above article calls it “willed forgetting.” I left the following comment on this topic over at Elliott Ng’s excellent post today:

The only point I disagree with is that it’s been forgotten due to “the busyness of life.” In neighboring Hong Kong there are still sizable demonstrations, and the world still remembers the day vividly. Just look at twitter last night. It is only where the incident has been filtered out of the search engines and banned from any discussion in the media that it is forgotten. The Nanjing Massacre is not forgotten, and those remembering it are just as busy as those forgetting the TSM. Out of sight, out of mind. Gady is spot on – this is willed forgetfulness, and the one doing the willing is the government. That is the high price that comes with a one-party authoritarian state; Big Brother controls the brainwaves and can convince people that ignorance is strength and freedom is slavery.

[Also via Elliott, whose post offers an array of excellent links, I found these superb photos from 1989 over at Slate. Highly recommended.]

I got quite annoyed at myself several days ago when I put up a post on Tibet and gave a finger-wagging lecture about how whenever China censors and cracks down on basic liberties it tells the world it is still a weak country, insecure and in the grip of a seemingly unending inferiority complex. I got so annoyed at my own self-righteousness I deleted it. But I look at this story and I think, maybe it’s not too harsh or self-righteous. It may come across that way, especially when Westerners say it, but it still needs to be said.

As China embarks on an expensive and ambitious campaign to build up its soft power, it should look right here, at this sort of behavior. Soft power is all about hearts and minds. The US sacrificed much of its own soft power under Bush, and you’d think China would learn from that. Bullying and suppressing aren’t good strategies for winning global admiration.

Update: CDT has some great articles, videos and photos on its site, which today is bathed in black. You must go see those videos (like this one). No wonder the whole incident has been hermetically sealed and locked away.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 63 Comments

I know that this may be taken as disingenuous, as I have eagerly gotten into quite a few arguments with merp and his type, but I really think that there would be more quality comments and quality discussion if others like Merp were gone. I would really rather discuss the topic at hand instead of disproving blatant lies and reciprocating personal insults.
To be honest, there have been weeks during which I’ve felt that there is no need to visit this site, as all that I might receive is a few snark personal comments in response to my own. This is not your fault: once one person says something ridiculous, it’s not always easy to get back on track, detracting from the broader point of your quite useful post above. If useless trolls are banned, comments may be somewhat less numerous at first, but perhaps having already established this site, quality should override quantity. It’s not my place to advise on site management, but I think that you have a fairly reliable group of fairly reasonable people who might breathe a collective sigh of relief at not having to read Merp’s BS, which did not provide any real contribution to the discussion.
On the other hand, I must admit that I learn a lot from merp, putz, and their type- not that I learn anything of value about what they’re “debating,” but rather how they debate. In this thread alone, the distractions of the children’s book, the location of massacre, etc. really demonstrate how some people are willing to use any excuse to distract from the fact that people were brutally killed in June of 1989 for no justifiable reason, and that this issue remains looming over contemporary China. Why do such “patriots” want to deny the death of their own fellow countrymen? This question seems quite interesting…

June 8, 2010 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

Kevin, I don’t disagree. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It will be a big change, as this site is Troll Central. But I’m going to do it. The worst that will happen is there will be fewer comments. Thanks.

June 8, 2010 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

It’s a tough choice, but it boils down to whether people contribute meaningfully or usually just disrupt things. Either way I’m sure that Richard will make the right decision.

By the way, has anyone noticed a slightly larger number of people wearing white recently? Or is any change not noticeable?

June 8, 2010 @ 8:37 pm | Comment

Richard –

On the one hand, you encourage us not to respond to trolls; on the other, you ask if I’ll still comment if Putz_ster is banned. It seems that you are of two minds on the issue.

I’m not suggesting that you impose a blanket ban on wildly off-topic comments of the sort that often appear here. But I think that you might consider banning stupidy of the sort that is the stock and trade of losers like Putz_ster.

Some threads are interesting precisely because of their non-linear nature; others are ruined by it.

In the end, I’m simply disgusted by flag-waving bullshit artists like Putz_ster. His comments offer absolutely nothing of substance to the discussion. As for you, I see no benefit to being the blogger who allows everyone to say whatever they want, no matter how stupid.

June 9, 2010 @ 12:18 am | Comment

Gan Lu, I said not to feed the trolls because I thought we were just spinning our wheels with all these comments on the book that broke putz’s heart. But you have a point I am ambivalent, because I want Chinese people to participate in the conversation and to hear both sides. But I decided last week, when I finally banned merp, that they had turned my blog into something I don’t want it to be, one big mud wrestling match. I’m ready to end that.

Anyone notice that putz never gave us the lines from the book that he found so tragic?

June 9, 2010 @ 12:41 am | Comment

I would applaud the decision. I’ve followed this blog for the better half of a decade, and have watched engaging near-trolls drive the conversation forward along with the rest of the crowd while pushing the civility envelope until they were banned.

Then… the room cleared out somehow. The trolls who were left posted obvious monkey-wrenches and rabbit-trails, and the other people left responded every time– like a cat will sometimes bat and bat at her favorite toy, long after tiring of the game, because someone’s still jiggling it. (The actual cat I’m thinking of destroyed that toy, fur and fluff, later that evening.)

I’m guessing it’s the same reason as for why I’d never posted before: simple discouragement. I’d early on dubbed the Oughties “the Decade People Listened to Bullies”– I guess the same was true of trolls.

I’m guessing discourse will flourish once again here.

June 9, 2010 @ 10:39 am | Comment

Thanks Jonathan. The decision has been made. No career trolls like putz and merp and Red Star allowed.

However, if pug wants to come on and give us the quote from that book that made him all weepy I will allow it. Until he does, I consider the entire story to be one of his signature fantasies.

June 9, 2010 @ 11:03 am | Comment


June 12, 2010 @ 4:48 am | Comment

So much for getting Li Peng’s memoirs out into the open.


I wonder if the CCP would try to suppress his memoirs if his accounts were false. I wonder if any of those “advance copies” will make it onto ebay.

June 20, 2010 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

Why am I not surprised?

June 20, 2010 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

Despite the block on the Li Peng diaries, it is widely available on the Internet in PDF form already (in simplified Chinese). I just downloaded it yesterday, but lost the link. I will look it back up.

June 21, 2010 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

FYI- link here:

June 21, 2010 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

[…] and lavishes praise on everything China, including the Great Leap Forward and, needless to say, the TSM. He rejects the creativity of the West in favor of the “discipline” of the East. He […]

September 2, 2010 @ 9:07 am | Pingback

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