Alright. I was going to have this written up in time for the anniversary on June 4th (yesterday for me). I was going to have a big historical rant about the context from which the protests rose, the impact it had on future government policies, and my thoughts on how a groups of students my age could bring a nation to its knees. But then I was locked out of the internet.
To clarify, China has some of the most strict internet censorship policies in the world. China has taken a strong stance against western social networking websites because of their potential to stir up social unrest (Arab Spring anyone?). In fact, Google even bought into the Chinese market by agreeing to censor such touchy topics as Tibetan independence, the Taiwanese independence, and the Tiananmen Massacre. Click here for a BBC article about this. However, most of the Chinese university students and educated elites have purchased their own BPN, and have no problems getting past “The Great Firewall of China.” I’ve never had trouble with internet access, and spent all of last summer happily blogging, chatting, and googling whatever Wikipedia pages I wanted.
Until last week, when I noticed that my apartment’s internet connection began to slow down, photos wouldn’t upload, and I was bumped off of Facebook more frequently. Eventually, I could not open anything. I tried different coffee shops around town, using different VPN connectivity, using an app versus a simple web search… I got nothing. Chinese social networking sites froze up whenever Tiananmen, June 4th, or 25th anniversary were typed in. My roommate faced the same problems, and at a meeting in the consulate, my boss mentioned that Google and Gmail connections were become worse. Aware of the date that was looming, we all assumed the worst.
Yesterday, I pretty much had the day to myself, so I began wandering about town. Scattered in front of the consulate were an assortment of regular PLA guards, plain-clothes cops, and suited up SWAT team members. At every subway exit and entrance a few policemen were stationed. Tianfu Square, the central plaza of Chengdu, was empty, except for a few battalions of PLA guards, policemen, and more plain-clothes cops. Other than the police and I, there was basically no one on the square.
As I wandered back to my apartment, I meandered through Sichuan University. This is the top school in western China, and one of the top ten schools in the country. It was a bit like a ghost town. Only a few years ago, this was the sight of one of the biggest protests in the country, now almost none of the students were aware of the anniversary, and none of them were about to do anything about it.
After that, I decided to go back to the consulate to see if any news was coming out of Beijing. I checked all of the major Chinese news sites. Not as single mainland Chinese website had mentioned the anniversary. Some Hong Kong and Taiwanese sites had one or two small pieces, but these was no mention of ongoing protests. Even the BBC and Wall Street Journal seemed frustrated at the absolute lack of news to report.
The whole situation has been uniquely frightening. That a government can not only operate a military and social suppression of an event that reflects poorly on them, but also mostly erase it from public memory is terrifying. China, of course is not the only nation to do this… how much Native American history do you know, how about the Japanese-American interment camps during World War Two, or about the Afghani and Iraqi aids that risk their lives to help our soldiers, but rarely receive US protection? No nation has a perfect track record, but to ignore the times of conflict and error is to deny generations part of their inheritance. Without knowing about past mistakes, how are we to manage future issues?