The Chinese military killed as many as 10,000 people during Beijing’s vicious crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 30 years ago. But today, those victims and the horrific events of June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square have been virtually wiped from China’s collective memory. Beijing has achieved this mass erasure through an unprecedented crackdown on all forms of public speech in the streets and online, relying on advanced technology to automate much of their efforts while detaining people like Deng for making the smallest reference.
This year, those tools have been working in overdrive, focusing primarily on the dissident movement’s last refuge: the internet.
Since real-world protests are far too dangerous, the internet has replaced the public square as the primary space for protest. But as government censors have become more sophisticated, activists who remember the massacre have increasingly had to rely on obscure memes, gifs, and coded references that new generations simply don’t understand.
Now, even these dissident voices are being crushed under China’s vicelike grip on its internet — denying younger generations a visceral reminder of Tiananmen Square.
“You need some inspiration from the past to motivate you to pursue a higher goal, but young people don't have the references,” Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News. “A lot of people from my generation don't even know this existed.”