Chinese media and the politics of forgetting: Tiananmen anniversary - June 4, 1989

A debate over national identity and patriotism linked to the annual 4 June vigil dominates Hong Kong's media, while a deadly factory fire and social media curbs are key topics in mainland press.

The Hong Kong press are trying to calm down an ongoing row over patriotism and growing tensions between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders as the city holds its 24th vigil to seek redress for the victims of a military crackdown near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 and 5 June 1989. Apple Daily says the situation is more complicated this year because the Beijing authorities and local pro-establishment factions are exploiting the patriotism debate to divide pro-democracy activists. The organisers of the 4 June candlelight vigil in Victoria Park - Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China - came under fire for choosing "loving the country and loving the people is the Hong Kong spirit" as a patriotic slogan for this year's event.

Ta Kung Pao, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper that usually ignores the Tiananmen vigil, has spoken out against "nativists" or localists who are boycotting the vigil and holding an alternative event outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. The newspaper says the avoidance of patriotism at the Victoria Park vigil is tantamount to an "act of national betrayal". Hong Kong Economic Times and South China Morning Post also urge the public to set the patriotism debate aside and use the vigil to press for an official vindication of the Tiananmen movement. Ming Pao calls on a new generation of leaders to show the political wisdom and courage to start a process of reassessing 4 June that ultimately leads to a full rehabilitation for the victims. 

In Taiwan, the Taipei edition of Apple Daily says 4 June is more significant than usual this year because many people want Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to give an official apology for the crackdown. "From 1949 to 1989, the Chinese Communist regime killed tens of thousands of people directly or indirectly. This had nothing to do with Xi Jinping. If he takes the lead in apologising, it will have highly positive symbolism, and it will also strengthen the legitimacy of Communist rule," the editorial says.

Over in the mainland, Ming Pao notes that internet users have kept censors busy by commemorating 4 June with online puns using the numbers 89 and 64. There are also online calls for users to post photos of themselves wearing black mourning clothes. Candle icons posted by thousands of people on Sina Weibo, a mainland microblog platform, have also been censored along with dozens of search terms related to 4 June, South China Morning Post reports. Hong Kong Cable TV says police intercepted Hong Kong reporters heading for the national flag-raising ceremony in Beijing's Tiananmen Square this morning and detained them for over an hour.

Internet freedom
In other political news, a commentary by Beijing state newspaper Global Times warns that free speech advocates are gaining the support of "Western public opinion" in opposing state controls over the internet. "Political and moral traps that deceive netizens should be prevented from arising on the internet. Management to reduce online rumours and curb clamour that deceives people and harms the country should be carried out resolutely according to the law," it stresses.

Another Global Times commentary calls on Chinese journalists to "reflect rationally" on recent social media guidelines for staff at the Associated Press and to refrain from posting "unconstrained" views that are at odds with their publications. "A process is needed for eliminating the 'politicization' of social networks, in which media professionals should make efforts instead of exacerbating problems. Professional media outlets in China should maintain their influence and judgment, and avoid acting as a loud-hailer for social networks," the commentary stresses.

However, commentator Hu Yong in China Youth Daily says it is unrealistic for journalists to remain totally objective in a social media age. "If social media policies prevent dialogue among journalists, journalists will have also lost an opportunity for reflection," Hu Yong concludes. Finally, Beijing Times, Global Times and other mainland newspapers are outraged at the deaths of at least 120 people who were trapped inside a poultry slaughterhouse that caught fire yesterday in Changchun, Jilin province. A Global Times reporter at the scene says that almost all the doors of the workshops were locked on the outside, and only a narrow side exit had been left open, which made escaping difficult.

See also
Chinese Journalists resist censorship: Timothy Garton Ash on The Southern Weekly affair

Looking Back at the June 4 Massacre, Twenty-Four Years on

The Crises of Party Culture: by Yang Guang
The crises of Party culture become clear with a single glance. The CPC is called the ruling party, yet it operates according to secret party rules: this is an identity crisis. Its formal ceremonies and slogans are like those of an extremist church, and it has long lost its utopian doctrine that stirred the passion of the people: this is an ideological crisis. It tells beautiful lies while accepting bribes and keeping mistresses: this is a moral crisis. The totalitarian system is in the process of collapsing, yet political reform is not in the foreseeable future: this is a political crisis. It has corrupted traditional values and also rejected universal values, rendering Party members and government officials at a spiritual loss: this is a crisis of values.

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