Tiananmen Square on May 35th

t01_90605094Twenty-four years ago today, student -led protests in Tiananmen Square took place, resulting in a martial response from the Chinese government resulting in many deaths. Hundreds of students and residents of Beijing were killed by the over 300,000 policemen who were ordered to the capital to put down the protests. Some have estimated that the number of victims ranged even higher, between 4000 to 6000. We may never know. The details of this event have been suppressed and buried.

Since the June Fourth incident, as it is referred to in China, the Chinese government has worked to censor every mention and reference to the event going so far as to censor political memoirs written by political figures who vehemently supported repression of the protests themselves. The taboo against any mention or reference to June Fourth has given rise to the phrase “May 35th” as a “secret” reference. In fact, the censorship has been so successful that many Chinese are not even aware of this event and the powerful iconic photograph that grew from the confrontation (pictured above).

In Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, the artist Florentijn Hofman’s 54 foot Rubber Duck has been floating. Today someone photoshopped the iconic image of the June Fourth Incident with the “tank man” standing in front of four of these Rubber Ducks (see photo at the end of this post). China immediately banned all searches for “big yellow duck,” even searches for the words “today,” “tomorrow,” and “tonight.” In China, police have been sent to the cemetery where many victims of the pro-democracy movement in 1989 are buried as well as to Tiananmen Square itself to make sure no protest can begin.

Energy spent in banning rubber duckies from being searched on the world wide web is patently absurd and ridiculous. This is the response of a country still unresolved with the issues brought up by the protest 24 years ago. Throwing issues under a cloud of darkness may buy some time, but time is running out. In a 2011 interview in The Atlantic, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in response to China’s visceral fear of the Arab Spring, “They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.” A fool’s errand, indeed, rubber duckies and all.


Hofman’s Rubber Duck in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong


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2 Responses to Tiananmen Square on May 35th

  1. Jerome Bloom says:


  2. Mrs. Chili says:

    NPR did a good piece about the censorship happening around this anniversary. I’m glad you posted the duck image; I could imagine it from the description, but it’s much better to actually see it.

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