30 years after the June 4th movement, a conference about government’s censorship of the event, was held in the University of Hong Kong by the Journalism and Media Studies Center (JMSC) and PEN Hong Kong.
30 years ago, in 1989, the June 4th student movement took place in Tiananmen Square and ended due to government suppression. Since then, various memorial activities have been held by people every year. The government’s censorship also continued. Recent research about censorship reflects the current environment that reporters are faced with and may give suggestions on reporting in China.
For the conference, the JMSC invited four guests to present their studies and observations about the movement. The event was moderated by Keith Richburg, the Director of the JMSC. Audience members were also welcome to raise questions towards the end.
The first speaker, Dr. Edmund Cheng (Hong Kong Baptist University), delivered a presentation about the Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong. He spoke about the people who participate in these vigils and why they are motivated to do so. According to the research he conducted with Dr. Samson Yuen (Lingnan University), people are able to gain a deeper understanding of the movement after repeated participation. Dr Cheng mentioned that people were not initially inclined to hold the vigil. Later on, however, through the influence of Chinese funeral rituals, many started to recreate what happened back in 1989. The data discussed is part of a paper that will be published in the future.
Next, the author of the book People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, Louisa Lim (University of Melbourne) spoke about media coverage of Tiananmen anniversaries. Specifically, the challenges faced by the China based correspondents. She played a short video about how foreign journalists were prevented from reporting around Tiananmen Square on 4th of June in past years. It has, since, become much harder for journalists to report on the story and, worse still, the repression has been normalized. “I am not telling the story of Tiananmen itself,” she said, “but the story of repression”.
Dr. King-wa Fu from the JMSC also researched government censorship on social media sites, like Wechat and Weibo, in China. At the beginning of the presentation, Dr. Fu introduced the first-ever photo archive of censored Tiananmen posts. “Since that day (4th June 1989)”, said Dr. Fu, “the Chinese people have no dream at all”. He went on to talk about a few select Weibo posts from 4th June 2014. The posts that had been censored reflect the expanding corpus of words, pictures and themes censored by the government. The posts have now been released to the public on Pintrest, Weiboscope and Instagram.
The Q&A session was after the three brief presentations. Students and journalists asked various questions, including about memories in Hong Kong, how students commemorate the event, the future of censorship and so on. When asked about his research in recent years, Dr. Fu said that 2014 was a turning point. Censorship experienced a transition from public platforms to private ones. He further mentioned the application of AI and machine leaning in censorship nowadays, which has strengthened the government’s control on the Internet.
The speakers present were not optimistic towards the future situation of free discussion about events like Tiananmen.
“Although memories of the event fade as the years pass,” said Lim, “China’s efforts to suppress them make (the memories) alive”.