Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=133299
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 3:46:40 AM CST
Yu Zhijian, Lu Decheng and Yu Dongyue were reunited for the first time this month after being released from the Laogai, the Chinese forced labor prison camp system. The “Three Heroes of Tiananmen,” as they have been described by many Chinese, were imprisoned for nearly 20 years after defacing a portrait of Mao Zedong that hung in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989.
Lu Dechang, who was granted political asylum in Canada in April 2006, delivered the following remarks via a translator during Tuesday’s conference:
“We’ve finally, triumphantly, come out alive.
We finally win the battle safely.
This is a victory of freedom and democracy.
Meanwhile, we know this is because we have freedom of expression. We have freedom of the press here, so we can win this battle.”
WASHINGTON—Twenty years after the killing of hundreds—even thousands—of students during a pro-democracy movement in Beijing, scholars, journalists and China-watchers came together this week to discuss how the Tiananmen Square massacre has shaped Chinese media protocols—especially online.
“Of all the post-Tiananmen dreams of liberation, the case of the Chinese Internet is among the most tragic,” said Ethan Gutmann, an author and fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Gutmann was one of four panelists who participated Tuesday in a dialogue on the repression of China’s bloggers, broadcasters and Web site creators in light of the government’s failure to fully acknowledge dissidence and reform movements like those that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The panel, hosted by the Laogai Research Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy, was part of a week-long conference and photo exhibit in commemoration of the events of spring 1989.
Gutmann gave several accounts of how the Communist Party of China has used the latest advances in technology to purge anti-Communist or other dissident material from the Web.
China seeks U.S. tech support in 1990s cyber crackdown
California-based Cisco Systems prevailed in a race among U.S. tech giants in 1997 to provide ChinaNet—a top Chinese Internet provider—with the technology necessary to block forbidden content online, Gutmann explained. Cisco sold Chinese authorities a firewall program at a significantly discounted price and also assisted China with surveillance efforts, he continued.
Cisco identified how China could maintain its Big Brother status through the use of cell phones, a growing phenomenon in China during the 1990s. This involved “tying voice patterns to surf patterns and then to political history patterns” and making that information available to Chinese authorities Gutmann explained.
In what he called “a paperless legal system” Gutmann said Cisco “capitalized on the general confusion between censorship, where they have plausible deniability, and surveillance, where the evidence is disputable.”
On the other hand, another U.S.-based corporation, Dynaweb, developed a way to identify URLs associated with the Chinese government as a way to track patterns in state security behavior, Gutmann explained.
Today, Dynaweb’s innovate anti-censorship software known as Freegate provides free and secure Internet connections and access to Web sites blocked by the Chinese state.
Still, in 2009 searches for “June 4” or “Tiananmen” on Chinese versions of search engines Google or Yahoo return zero results, noted panelist Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders.
China is ranked no. 167 out of 173 on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index and this year China has the most imprisoned journalists and cyber dissidents, with about 100 in jail and many serving long terms under harsh conditions, Morillon explained.
“The June 4 crackdown ended contemporary China’s most important pro-democracy movement,” Morillon said. “And a free press was one of the main demands of the protesters as well as many journalists and journalism professors.”
As a result, the Tiananmen Square massacre remains a mystery to many Chinese youth.
‘For China’s young, Tiananmen has never happened’
Author and lawyer Gordon Chang told a story during Tuesday’s event about a time when he and his wife, who were both were living in Shanghai in 1996, explained to a Chinese woman in her mid-20s for the first time what had happened at Tiananmen Square.
“We were taken aback that someone could have lived during the turmoil of 1989 in a major city in China and not known that a million Chinese had gathered in the spiritual heart of their country, that the vicious 27th army had fought its way though the streets of Beijing on the night of June 3 and that by the morning of June 4 perhaps 3000 people had been killed,” Chang explained.
As China’s Communist Party continues to suppress the memory of Tiananmen Square, the topic is not taught in history classes nor does state media give attention to commemoration of the event.
“Those who have lived through the events of June 4 of course remember,” Chang said. “They remember the exhilaration of gathering in the square and the horror of the crackdown. But for China’s young, Tiananmen has never happened.”
London-based journalist and historian Jonathan Mirsky, who covered the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing, believes things need to change.
“A basic human right is that all people should have an accurate memory of their own past,” he said. “The Chinese have been deprived of that. People like us can help them remember.”