Sunday, June 5, 2022

Censorship on the 33rd Anniversary of June 4, 1989

After 33 years PRC websites continue to censor information about what happened in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Let's start with some obvious examples – censorship of the date. In English Baidu web search returns 2 results, in Chinese 6 results, all from PRC state-sponsored media.

Baidu's main social media product - "PostBar" (贴吧) has forums dedicated to "1988" and "1990," but searching for "1989" just yields a censorship notice "In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, relevant results have not been displayed."
Baidu's Q&A product (知道) finds tens of thousands of results for "Tiananmen 1988" and "Tiananmen 1990," but zero results for "Tiananmen 1989."
Tencent-owned Sogou web search also censors information relating to what happened in Beijing in June, 1989. A search for "Tiananmen 1989" returns no results, but the same search for "Tiananmen 1988" and "Tiananmen 1990" returns thousands of results.
The same thing happens with Sogou's image search - Sogou has no trouble finding images for "Tiananmen 1988" and "Tiananmen 1990," but is unable to locate a single image for "Tiananmen 1989."
And again, the same thing happens with Sogou's WeChat search engine - plenty of results for "Tiananmen 1988" and "Tiananmen 1990," but a search for "Tiananmen 1989" yields no results.

The same kind of censorship occurs on PRC social media sites. For example, these screenshots show that Sina Weibo has no problem finding results for "32nd Anniversary" and "34th Anniversary," but finds none for "33rd Anniversary."

Now for a look at PRC censorship of the iconic "Tank Man" images. This screenshot shows a Baidu search for "Tank Man" in English returns no results.

While a search for "Tiananmen 1989 Block Tanks" in Chinese returns no results, Baidu says its has found 22,070 "relevant images"! Not surprisingly, however, clicking that Baidu Image link lands users on a page telling them that, in fact, Baidu cannot find any relevant images.
Other PRC-based image search engines, such those of Qihoo and Tencent-owned Sogou, are unable to find any image results for searches for "Block Tanks."

Even terms with no obvious connection to what occurred in Beijing in June 1989-like "Tiananmen Mothers"-are censored. In addition to a screenshot showing Baidu finds no results for that query, I've included a screenshot of a Yahoo SERP for the same query to show what Baidu is censoring.

The Wikis operated by PRC Internet companies take different approaches to censoring the history of what happened in Beijing in June 1989. Today, the "This Day In History" sections show:
  • Baidu: Khamenei elected supreme leader
  • Qihoo: Nothing for 1989
  • Sogou: Nothing for 1989

The top search results for "1988 year" and "1990 year" on Tencent-owned Sogou are Sogou's own Wiki articles about those years. The top result for "1989 year" is an article on Taylor Swift's album by that name. It appears Sogou simply has no article about the year 1989.

Sogou does have a Wiki article about "Tiananmen Square," but according to their article, nothing worth mentioning happened in Tiananmen Square between 1976 and 1997.

Qihoo does have a Wiki article about 1989, but unlike its Wiki articles about 1988 and 1990, Qihoo's article on 1989 has no section on "Major Events." So there's nothing to indicate anything noteworthy happened in/around Tiananmen Square (or anywhere else) that year.

Baidu has articles on 1989 and Tiananmen Square. But according to Baidu nothing happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the only noteworthy events on June 4 were:
  • Walesa elected prime minister of Poland
  • Khamenei elected supreme leader of Iran

Here's another stark example of how PRC Internet companies treat modern Chinese history - this screenshot shows a search for "64 Remembrance" (六四 纪念) on Baidu returns ZERO results. Someone in the PRC would be better off using a Korean search engine like Naver. . .

Finally, it should be noted that people in the PRC haven't forgotten, and still get punished for peaceful attempts to commemorate, what happened in Beijing in June 1989. For example,  Jie Ruixue was jailed for wearing a t-shirt  in Tiananmen Square in 2019. According to the court judgment, the t-shirt Jie was jailed for wearing in Tiananmen Square in 2019 read "Freedom of Speech, Vindicate June Fourth, Oppose Repeating the Tragedy." The court judgment claimed this "caused severe chaos," but cited no evidence to support that claim.

There's an entire section of my casebook "State Prosecutions of Speech in the PRC" devoted to PRC government documents showing people getting punished for commemorating and discussing what happened in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

You can download the casebook free at my website:

Translation: Huang Xuqin and Wang Jianbing Inciting Subversion Indictment

On June 14, 2024, the Twitter account "Free Huang Xueqin & Wang Jianbing 释放雪饼" (@FreeXueBing)  posted a copy of the last two p...