A photograph capturing the poignant embrace between two Chinese athletes at the Asian Games in Hangzhou has been subjected to censorship within China. Lin Yuwei and Wu Yanni, having just completed the women’s 100m hurdles final on October 1st, shared an emotional embrace. This tender moment, however, inadvertently gave rise to an allusion to the tragic events of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
As the athletes embraced, the lane numbers assigned to them, Lin with “6” and Wu with “4,” fortuitously aligned to form the number “6/4.” This numerical composition carried a subtle reference to June 4, 1989, when the Chinese Communist Party’s military forces unleashed a deadly assault on unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, resulting in the loss of countless innocent lives, particularly students. Lin clinched the gold medal with an impressive time of 12.74 seconds, while Wu, despite securing the second position, was disqualified due to a false start, hence not awarded the silver medal.
Efforts to find posts or discussions concerning the athletes’ heartwarming embrace on China’s predominant microblogging platform, Weibo, led to the discovery of obscured content represented by gray squares, as per China Digital Times. Combinations of numbers, such as “6-4,” “64,” “63+1,” “65-1,” and other search terms potentially tied to June 4, 1989, have been subjected to censorship on Chinese social media platforms. Authorities have diligently limited information dissemination pertaining to this incident, enforced strict censorship on associated keywords, and blocked related websites and social media discussions. Initially unaware of the photograph’s sensitivity, state-controlled media outlets in China posted it on their official social media channels and news websites.
China Central Television News (CCTV), the foremost state broadcaster, initially shared the photograph on its Weibo account, which boasts 132 million followers. Similarly, Xinhua, another state news agency, featured the image in an article covering the women’s final race. However, CCTV News subsequently removed the photograph from its Weibo account, and Xinhua took down the original article.
To mitigate the situation, other state media outlets published photographs of the two athletes from alternative angles, skillfully concealing their lane numbers. In response to the censorship of the photograph, numerous netizens expressed criticism of the Chinese regime. One social media user commented, “Only those who’ve committed unconscionable acts fear the ghosts of history,” while another referred to the sporting event as “The 1989 Asian Games.”
Last year, during the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, one of China’s most popular influencers, Austin Li, with an impressive following of 42 million, faced censorship. Mr. Li’s broadcast was abruptly terminated when he presented a cake shaped like a tank, featuring cookies as wheels and a chocolate stick symbolizing its gun. Subsequently, he was subjected to an inter-company investigation concerning the incident.
The image famously known as “Tank Man” stands as one of the most iconic photographs associated with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. This photograph captures an unidentified Chinese man courageously standing before a column of Type 59 tanks as they departed the square on June 5, 1989, a day following the Chinese regime’s violent suppression of demonstrators. The man’s brave actions have come to symbolize the spirit of peaceful resistance and the yearning for political reform, principles advocated by many protesters at Tiananmen Square.
The protests represented a significant juncture in Chinese history, where thousands of students, intellectuals, and citizens congregated in the square to demand political reform, freedom of expression, and an end to corruption. In response to the protests, the Chinese Communist Party executed a ruthless military crackdown, resulting in numerous casualties and the imposition of stringent censorship.
In June, a woman in Guangzhou was subjected to harassment by police as she danced with hand movements that displayed the numbers “6” and “4.” The commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre’s anniversary finds observance predominantly outside China. However, in Hong Kong, an annual candlelight vigil held in a downtown park, which used to attract tens of thousands, has been prohibited since 2020, primarily due to the imposition of a national security law by Beijing, which clamped down on dissent within this former British territory.
The last June 4 vigil held in Hong Kong took place in 2019, drawing an estimated crowd of 180,000 attendees. In 2020, thousands assembled at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to mark the anniversary, but authorities apprehended numerous activists and subsequently sentenced them to prison terms of up to 15 months for hosting the vigil.
The Tiananmen Square massacre is not the sole forbidden topic in China; Falun Gong constitutes another highly sensitive subject. Since 1999, the spiritual practice has been subjected to persecution by the CCP, resulting in the detention of millions within prisons, labor camps, and other facilities, with hundreds of thousands enduring torture while incarcerated, as reported by the Falun Dafa Information Center. A report from Citizen Lab, a Canada-based organization, revealed that WeChat, China’s most prevalent chat app boasting over 800 million active users in the country, employs visual-based algorithms to filter images that contain blacklisted phrases or imagery linked to issues deemed sensitive by the CCP.