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.