25 years since Tiananmen: Has anything changed?

By EMMA LAWSON:

The Tiananmen Square massacre, or the June 4th incident showcased the undisputed power the Chinese government has and would refuse to let go in 1989.

Refusing to let months of student, anti-corruption and freedom of the press protests continue; the protest movement was silenced by the government in a lethal and violent way.

Since that day 25 years ago, the Chinese people have not seen such a movement again. But does this mean nothing has changed in china within a quarter of a century? Possibly.

With censorship still being a major issue in china, even with the internet; has censorship changed in china, or rather just the means to how censorship is done?

The "Tank Man" as he is known, an unknown man who was frustrated with the governments brutality on June 4th. He stands as the image for memory for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Is it possible the "tankman" and what he represents is a driving force to censorship in China today?

The “Tank Man”, an unknown man frustrated with the governments brutality on June 4th now stands as the image for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Is it possible the “Tank Man” and what he represents is a driving force to censorship in China today?

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Trevor Watson: The first signs of the government’s intentions was when I saw an armoured personnel carrier coming towards Tiananmen Square. One young protestor rode his bicycle in front of the armoured personal carrier and it ran straight over him. That was for me when I saw it happen that was the signal the government was now serious.

Emma Lawson: That right there was Trevor Watson former Chinese foreign correspondent for the ABC, describing the scenes he saw in the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Tiananmen Square massacre, or the June 4th incident showcased the undisputed power the Chinese government has and would refuse to let go in 1989.

Refusing to let months of student, anti corruption and freedom of the press protests continue; martial law was declared on June 3rd, and the military was ordered to forcibly stop the protestors using “any means necessary”.

The military used machine guns, armed carrier and even tanks to quash the protest movement, killing possibly thousands of people.

The protest movement was silenced and since that day 25 years ago the Chinese people have not seen such a movement again. But does this mean nothing has changed in china within a quarter of a century? Possibly.

Censorship is still a major issue within China. With censoring of books, newspapers, television shows, movies, and even words such as June 4th or sex or porn. China is rated 175th out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index.

With 32 journalists in gaol in china today, is it possible the Tiananmen Square massacre was the driving force into why there is such great censorship today, to ensure another June 4th will not happen?

Trevor Watson believes June 4th is not the soul reason to why censorship laws exist today, as they had already been emplaced prior to the protests.

Trevor Watson: I think there was a great deal of censorship before Tiananmen there was, a desire amongst journalists and that’s why they joined in the protests for greater freedom of the press

Emma Lawson: Although censorship has always been present in china, there are current hopes that with greater technological advances, (mainly the internet) freedom of speech is improving in China.

Professor Kerry Brown: In some areas in fact China’s expression is pretty free, for instance there seems to be healthy discussion online about certain social and environmental issues.

Emma Lawson: That there was Professor of Chinese Politics Dr Kerry Brown whom believes it is through the Internet some forms of Chinese expression have become increasingly free.

However Liam Charles university student and former English editor for a bilingual magazine in China, sees the internet has not brought new opportunities for freedom of speech but rather has given greater ability for the government to track conversation.

Liam Charles: It’s a lot easier to track someone by Wee chat then it ever would have been physically bugging an apart or something like that.

Emma Lawson: The ministry of public security is able to not only track conversation through the Internet but also block information through the great Chinese firewall. If an Internet user in china is to search for words such as ‘democracy movements’ or even “marijuana” he or she will likely be taken to a link that says “page cannot be displayed”.

So from all this can we say that freedom of speech has even changed since 1989 or is free speech being just as limited?

Liam Charles believes that yes freedom of speech and censorship have changed since 1989 but, that this does not necessarily more freedom has been allowed but rather the means to censor have changed.

Liam Charles: The nature of censorship has changed they now employ a lot of bloggers, thousands and thousands of bloggers they act as pr agents and change the conversation on the internet to spin it toward the government line

Emma Lawson: Trevor Watson too believes since Tiananmen the method of censorship has changed. He sees that it is becoming increasingly perceiving that china is allowing more freedom of speech, but this however is simply state contrived freedom.

Trevor Watson: The government allows an expose on a corrupt official, that gives the perception that there is a level of freedom that doesn’t actually exist. So a story of a corrupt official will be sanctioned by the government, the government will deal with corrupt official (usually harshly), and it will demonstrate two things. One that there is a level of free speech in the media and two that the government is serious about breaking down corruption.

Emma Lawson: If freedom of the press nor censorship (apart from its methods) has not changed since the Tiananmen square massacre, has this historic event changed anything for the Chinese people.

For Trevor Watson he believes it was the events that occurred on June 4th that has led the Chinese government to push so heavily their economic reforms to become the super power they are today.

He believes in order to avoid another Tiananmen massacre the government was forced to provide economically for the country to ensure no more revolting would be necessary.

Trevor Watson: That is one of the reasons why the Chinese economy is driven as hard as it is, I believe they lost the mandate of heaven in 1989 and decided the answer to remain in power they would have to provide the bread and circuses to the people.

Emma Lawson: Time can only tell what other changes will be brought for the Chinese people in this prosperous economic time. Perhaps one day we will see another large protest in china. We can only hope if there is one, it is a more peaceful and successful compared to the events that happened 25 years ago.

 

THUMBNAIL IMAGE: COURTESY OF FLICKR IMAGE/ ROBERT CROMA

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