Thursday, June 4 is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
During the early summer of 1989, university students gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest and voice their demands for a more democratic government. After seven weeks of protesting, the government had enough, sending in the military. Troops manning tanks arrived in force, killing hundreds of students and wounding thousands more.
In the years since, China has made numerous efforts to insist to the rest of the world that its human rights record has improved. Perhaps the most obvious example was its hosting of last year’s Olympic Games.
But 20 years later, how much has really changed?
Protest and democracy movements are happening not on the street, but online, conveyed and mediated through technology.
And the government is responding just as strongly as it did in 1989. It’s not with tanks this time, but with error messages. In the past few days, Chinese users of popular social media sites like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and various e-mail services, including Hotmail, have found that all of these sites have been blocked.
Though the government has blocked these forms of communication, it will not effectively be able to silence Chinese bloggers and activists, who aren’t likely to forget about Tiananmen or the conversation about democracy when the rest of the world moves on after commemorating Tiananmen tomorrow. They’ll wait until the tech blackout is over.
And then they’ll get back to work.