How History Has Been Erased in China

Glorious as China's 60th National Day may be, people the world over still remember the image of a single defiant protester halting a convoy of tanks in Beijing Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

But Chinese youngsters born in the 1980s may not, owing much to the government's control over domestic media.

Heavily influenced by the western media, Chinese youngsters will probably not get an objective view over this historical event. Thereafter, they may be used by some as tools for an anti-China purpose. If this is not what people expect, why cannot they be given the chance to have their own interpretation with all-round information?

On June 4 1989 in Tiananmen Square China a well-known pro-democracy demonstration led mainly by students and intellectuals took place. The demonstration was suppressed by the Chinese government. According to the official Chinese government records it left 241 people dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded. But the exact number remains unclear due to large discrepancies between different estimates.

Antony Thomas whilst working for the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) witnessed the whole process and says, “I never forget those faces, those, those young people’s faces.” But history has already been erased in the younger generation of Chinese memory; in the same way as Japan’s invasion of China has been forgotten by their counterparts in Japan.

International Voices forumThey have no idea of what happened 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square. This means the youngsters tend to loyally believe all that their government does is absolutely right, thereby losing their critical and rational thinking. By doing so, the government may easily control people's mind so as to guarantee their one-party regime, which is known as obscurantism.

This is an old trick which had been used throughout China's feudal society. It can be traced back as early as 221B.C.

In Qin Dynasty, there was 'Burning of books and burying of scholars'. Till the very end of China's last feudal dynasty, Qing, there was 'Literary inquisition'. Chinese people's minds have been suppressed for thousands of years and they tend to be used to it. And the rulers once in power seem to be inclined to use the same tricks too.

It is, apparently, not a smart head to keep a public issue secret in such a media-saturated world. But the Chinese government made it. And the media has been playing a key role enabling it to do so.

In a democratic society, the media is there to provide a check against excessive power and to inform people concerning the major issue of public interest in order to allow their knowledgeable participation in public life. But in China, the media seems not to be working to inform the people, but as a tool to fool the people.

All related media was muted during the 20th anniversary of the event.

So all those youngsters saw was more police placed around Tiananmen on June 4, 2009 and what they experienced was they could not log on to popular websites including YouTube, twitter, flicker and Windows Live.

According to Financial Times, approximately 6,000 websites were shut down in China during the anniversary period. The excuse given for all those blocked websites was almost the same one, that websites were being 'upgraded'.

Any word concerning June 4 typed into Google China yielded nothing but “searching results are not available in line with regional law, regulation and policy”. Curiosity might be generated among some youngsters as to why nationwide websites were upgrading at the same time.

Throughout the whole country, only Hong Kong was allowed to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident.

According to a ground report, on 4th of June 2009, 150,000 Hong Kong citizens gathered in and around Victoria Park to tell the world that the Hong Kong people would not forget what happened 20 years ago.

With all information blocked in mainland China, youngsters will have no idea of their own history. Curiosity may lead them to access stories framed by the westerners who may have biased interpretations of this issue, thus they may be manipulated to be anti their own country.

Under such circumstances, freedom of speech seems more than precious.

By rendering freedom of speech to all Chinese people, not only the youngsters, they will be  empowered to hold a balanced attitude towards the events. This approach would surely eliminate some potential danger to the country, and also the government could avoid the world-wide criticism of its violation of human rights; which has a large influence on China's international reputation.

In Chinese history, there was once a phenomenon that 'Let a hundred of schools contend' during 770 B.C. and 221 B.C. This enormously helped promote China's progress in all fields ranging from politics to economy.

Likewise, giving freedom of speech back to its people will bring China another brilliant era.
Tian Weiwei is an experienced teacher in New Oriental Overseas. He worked at New Oriental Education & Technology Group before moving to Australia. Tian Weiwei holds a Bachelor Degree in Business English from Jiangxi Normal University and is currently studying for a Master degree in Media Practice in the University of Sydney.