Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Tiananmen 30 years on – China's great act of 'forgettance' (bbc.com)
283 points by sys_64738 45 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 88 comments

In related news, Twitter is alleged to have suspended accounts that have been critical of the Chinese regime on the eve of the anniversary.

The suspended accounts include Western residents.


Twitter is blocked in China, why would Twitter do this? There's no way Twitter has had any communication with the Chinese government at all, I guess I just don't understand the incentive.

Accounts probably got mass-reported and Twitter, in their usual ways, just went ahead and banned them?

Hope that sometime in future they might be allowed.

To the surprise of no one. Twitter's always been the most censorship-friendly social network.

> Account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.

The vaguest possible reason. The only way this censorship could be more cowardly, is if the account was shown as missing. Or if it was shadow-banned, or pushed down in search rankings.

Worse than censorship, is hiding that censorship took place, and why it took place.

When you have absolutely objective rules, bad actors can manipulate things in bad faith. That’s much the same as when companies try to establish objective management-by-metrics, it almost never turns out well, even though it seems to be “fair” in the sense that the rules are equally applied to all circumstances.

When you have subjective rules, you have a two-edged sword. When bad actors try to game the system, moderators/the judiciary/the benevolent dictator can step in and say, “I see what you’re up to, and I’m stopping it here.”

But of course, if you have bad actors enforcing rules that have subjective application, they can apply them unequally and create injustice. For example, if the police have the discretion whether to charge teenagers with a crime for possession of weed, they can overwhelmingly choose to charge members of one socioeconomic group, while overwhelmingly giving a pass to another.

My claim is that rigid rules are subject to gaming by bad actors subject to the rules, and flexible rules are subject to gaming by bad actors enforcing the rules.

Beyond ideological beliefs that “fairly applied” is more important than “just outcomes,” it comes down to looking at your threat model. In the case of Twitter, I consider Twitter’s own management to be the biggest threat.

Whereas with Hacker News, I trust the benevolence of its dictators, and consider bad faith users to be the biggest threat.


What about just more transparency? You can bend the rules of you want to ban someone who seems to be gaming them, but update the rules and tell them why. "We didn't like you doing X. We have banned you and updated the rules to forbid this." That way you would not be able to hide behind vague bans to enact censorship in this way

Because that ends in never ending (truly, never ending) litigation of the rules by bad faith parties. It dosen't matter what the rules say, or even if you point to exact rules, they will still endlessly bog down discussions, and the more rules there are, the more effectively they can achieve that, that is their entire goal from the outset.

Its like a legal system, but with no penalty whatsoever for acting in malicious bad faith to disrupt the system itself, and the bad faith disruption generates even more avenues to disrupt, like some troll hall of mirrors.

Only thing you end up achieving is giving bad actors more ammunition, and meanwhile nobody who is truly unjustly banned is going to navigate 100000 sub threads of "case law".

Great example of how dysfunctional this ultimately becomes is Wikipedia, where you get the book thrown at you by wikilawyers (which is ironically against the rules itself, yeah ok...) for innocent infractions, but people operating in bad faith have no issues making Wikipedia say what they want it to.

Your entire argument assumes that if you give a reason for bans/censorship, then people are allowed to appeal. But that's not the case - Twitter could easily write "This account has been banned by order of the Chinese government/for spreading hate speech/encouraging piracy.", without the chance for appeal. They just prefer to keep their users in the dark.

It dosen't matter if appeals are formally granted, there is still going to be a lot of informal discussion about it amongst users of the community (including banned users that are evading) that is going to generate increasing amounts of drama with time.

Twitter is also never going to be honest about business case driven bans like this either, i mean do you seriously expect them to state that as the reason, even if it is their policy to do so? It would be the end of their business in China (supposing they aren't already blocked of course)

> there is still going to be a lot of informal discussion about it amongst users of the community (including banned users that are evading) that is going to generate increasing amounts of drama with time.

It is precisely the lack of this drama, the discreet manner in which they can censor and pretend they didn't, that I object to. People should know how they're being manipulated, and then talk about it - the so-called 'drama'.

But of course the censor would prefer to control the discussion without letting people know.

The problem is that you are framing the censor as evil and the user as benign, which unfortunately isn't the norm in an online context.

Sounds like a situation where everyone who has a differing opinion can have their views hand waved away as acting in bad faith. Which itself is acting in bad faith.

At least there would be a record of Twitter banning people for acting "in bad faith", which could then be discussed.

What you fail to capture in your framing of this problem are financial incentives and concern for the user experience. Twitter and Wikipedia are very different beasts. twitter needs subjective rules that benefit their own bottom line because they need to appeal to the lowest common denominator to increase and maintain users.

The amount of work they do to bury it is a good sign for the movement against authoritarianism. It means that the government is still scared of the event and what it signifies. As long as they're scared of Tiananmen and actively fight it, it still has power and the fight isn't over. When the government stops trying to suppress it is when the Tiananmen movement truly fails.

Consider that their goal is for young Chinese to not be aware of Tiananmen, which they are close to achieving.

What people outside of China think is much less of a concern.

I wonder what would happen if the US made a requirement that to get a student visa to study here, applicants from China have to take and pass a history course about Tiananmen Square and the subsequent efforts to cover it up?

There are around 360k Chinese students in the US. If China didn't do anything to counter it, that would be a lot of educated young people eventually returning to China to take influential jobs who are aware of Tiananmen.

Would China go so far as to stop allowing their students to study in the US to stop that? Or would they just to to convince the students that the US is lying?

Chinese students are cash cows for universities. Wouldn't be surprised if they found a way to argue against complying with any such mandate that endangered this rather important profit center. As far as the Chinese government goes, they could require pre and post briefings for all students studying in the United States. It wouldn't avoid the students being exposed to what happen in Tiananmen Square but under the right conditions, with the right carrots and sticks, they could be made to either be skeptical or disinterested in the truth. As Upton Sinclair said 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'

At Auburn University in the late 90s there was a seemingly random murder of a Chinese grad student and his wife. The local police were mystified because it didn't match a typical homicide and there appeared to be no motive, not even robbery. Eventually it turned out that the student was the son of a important regional politician back in China. His enemies had the son and daughter-in-law murdered in the United States to send him a message. Similar demonstrations of the long reach of the Chinese government could be made to students studying in the United States if they as a group started creating difficulties for the official narrative.

The students that make it to the USA mostly know things like that already. Their ideological positions, one way or the other, are not influenced much by ignorance.

I've met several Chinese students whose personal Tiananmen epiphanies were in the States, not on the mainland.

Epiphanies and knowledge are different things.

Confucius Institutes are arms of the Chinese state that operates on US university campuses that monitor and report on their citizens' activities while they're studying in the US, as well as organizing propaganda events in the US. US universities must stop collaborating with these institutes and expel them from campus, even if only to protect their students as much as possible.

It's a lot easier for those students to learn about it once outside of China. No firewall, less groupthink, less fear of being watched.

How many are unaware, and how many pretend to be unaware because they know they're expected to be unaware?

Here's a weeks long thread where I engage in a conversation with a (allegedly) Chinese student about such topics.

For those that have bought into the propaganda, the impression is generally that the government put down a dangerous riot that was killing innocents.

Start of the Twitter uh "thread" (not sure how to refer to these) https://twitter.com/Chinahnpy/status/1129327748743409664?s=2...

Here's the start of some tiananmen discussion: https://twitter.com/komali_2/status/1133764941675094016?s=20

Yes, there’s a lot of people who know nothing of Tiananmen at all, but often those that do would characterize it as a riot by agitators who forced the governments hand.

I think the central government now advocates apathy rather than forgettance. Young people get apathy, so it’s an easier sell.

Kind of related, but Turkey just as much tries to bury/deny the Armenian-Greek-Syriac genocide over 100 years later. I sincerely hope that any resolution that would admit Turkey into the EU would involve admitting and paying the price for those atrocities.

As a Turk, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of people in Turkey are aware of the way the late Ottoman Empire treated certain ethnic minorities. What they deny is the “genocide” classification (and the responsibility and repercussions that would come with accepting it).

As a Greek with Armenian in laws, my grandparents and great grandparents would quite literally spit in the face of someone who tries to tell them that wasn't genocide, and deservedly so. I have family alive right now that remember what happened then. If we can't call what was carried out by Turks in the early 1915's throughout WW1 genocide, we might as well retire that word from language all together.

Actually, the word genocide was coined specifically to refer to what the Turks did to the Armenians.

It's not truly forgotten when there's this much effort to try to forget it, that applies to both Tiananmen and the genocide. I remain (perhaps foolishly) optimistic that these movements to gain recognition for events and fight for democracy are strong enough that when one of these governments finally falters in their fight, even for a second, they'll be able to come back in full force

How about the concurrent/earlier genocides of Turks and other Muslim ethnicities in the Balkans and Hellas supported by the Great Powers of the era? Those are also related. Action and reaction, as it is.

Edit: both are, after all, caused by religious nationalism. Let's not ignore one of them.

There is a new wave of activism in China that is being accidentally kick started from where the top leaders least expected it... Marxist study sessions!



I doubt the leaders didn't expect it; Lenin had the same problem, and wrote a whole book about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%22Left-Wing%22_Communism:_An_...

So for a while the communitsts were the good guys, they unite factory workers against evil factory owners; then capitalists became the good guy, who pay worker fairly and champion human rights; are we seeing a coming back of communists being the good guys again?

I was doing consulting work for the IOC when cities were bidding for the 2008 Summer Olympics. BOCOG submitted as part of their bid using Tiananmen Square as the site for Beach Volleyball. The IOC had to tell them it was inappropriate and to change that part of their bid. They really do want to pretend nothing happened there.

Another way of looking at it: even for Chinese people who are aware of and care about the incident, Tiananmen Square is still a famous and significant place in its own right and is not primarily associated with that particular event. They don’t call it the “Tiananmen Square” incident in Chinese, because many other things also happened there.

Exactly! This is an example of the many cognitive biases.

To people live outside of China, that event is all they know about Tiananmen. But to a Chinese person especially a local resident, it's a place of many memories - a big playground for kids, a hub for changing buses, the entrance to Forbidden City/Zhongshan (Sun Yat Sen) Park/National Museum, a pathway to a shopping quarter, and of course a place full of annoying tourists.

No one is trying to hide anything. It's simply a wonderful venue for olympic games. The view would have been amazing! You will never get an opportunity like that again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGQke3dJdNU&feature=youtu.be... (again please ignore those awkward tourists)


"And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting..."

(Obviously from 1984)

Funny that before 64, China is moving to opening up economically and politically, and after that only economically. And later a lot of the original leaders revealed they are clueless in how to demand proper political reform at the original movement (partly showing as these people become nobody gradually, and partly as their words and deeds gradually descend to those of celebrity or businessmen).

In the end are 64 leaders and the political powers behind it actually missed the opportunity to creat the New Democratic super power that still would today challenge us, but politically close to us as well?

I think so. china is vastly big and diverse. Things moving fast. Before 1949 China is a mix of capitalism, feudalism, foreign colonist, etc, the economy is agriculture centered.

1949 to 1970s, China did a lot of things to reform the nation to be a unified nation in all aspects. Politically, militarily, culture, education, economically, etc.

On ward Mao died, Deng took a very diplomatic and politically mature move to turn the economy to capitalism heavy. I.e., he claim that the way you do business has nothing to do with your political system. That’s of course a facade, or even a lie.

Then comes 64, they apparently heavily influenced by Ussa, and demanded similar changes. The Chinese people are not ready for that, the incumbent powers (both those just took power and want a more western democratic, and those diehard anti west ) don’t want that. And they promptly and skillfully shut it down.

China’s road to reform suddenly took a nose dive, from politically and economically moving the same direction, to politically heavy guarded towards anti western democracy.

Just like the guy coming to a big Corp and try to instate use strategic shift, by being passionate and fast acting, that person destroys the minimal confidence and trust people had with the new system.

Sure, 64 is well intended, but is it a positive event? No, sorry.

>1949 to 1970s, China did a lot of things to reform the nation to be a unified nation in all aspects

To me these years seem to be the darkest.

Early - 1949->51 saw the apex of the first wave of landlord killing, possibly 30M were killed.

Then, in the late 50's and early 60's we have The Great Leap forward plan, and the consequential three years of famine.

Estimates have been made that gauge The Great Leap Forward as having killed 18M to 56M chinese people : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward

see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine

To round things off five years later The Cultural Revolution kicks off, you can visit university campus's in China today where you can still see where red guard factions fought each other in grenade battles. Maybe 10M Chinese died.


Deng was really trying to get food round the country; the development of farmers markets was a way to do this - black cat, yellow cat - it distributes food.

I cannot comment much, I do not have much data to support or disapprove.

Partly a good comment. 64 was not "heavily influenced" by the USA. It was way more complex with a large set of different reasons. Fang Lizhi and his experience in the US and influence of students was one factor, but it was also the nepotism and corruption, disparity fueled by the reforms, economic difficulties and inflation, devaluation of liberal arts subjects and many (individual) reasons more.

People needed to vent and the party did not handle it well. It was the party's own fault that the situation deescalated and led to the shocking events in June 89.

Lets be sensible and understand there is no fault that is purely one side faulted... Especially in hugely complicated matter like politics...

Edit: Please down vote this to death... The purest democracy will help people get it...

Aside from the party that mulched protestors with tanks and apcs then washed the remains down the sewers.

I'm sorry but how can anyone discuss with a straight face that perhaps people were moving too fast for a system to catch up. . . Which resulted in the above, then proceed to talk as if that government or system could develop from there. You don't get to come back from that.

Hmm, let’s see. On one side we have protestors asking for political reform. On the other side we have authoritarian thugs who would lose power under such reform, and who ultimately used said power to murder hundreds or thousands on the other side.

But sure, “there is no fault that is purely one side faulted”. All sins are given equivalent weight. Who are we to decide which side was wrong here? Let’s just all forget about it and move on.

I feel comfortable with blaming the people who ordered tanks to run over thousands of unarmed protesters, personally.

This is also not that simple. The soldiers were all young boys, 18, 19, 20. They were scared and not prepared. The crowed radicalised in the weeks before the eruption. Misinformation was spread on both sides. The orders given to the young boys were unclear: clean Tiananmen, but no blood. Further, they were very bad equipped: live ammunition. The forces have evaluated later the situation and invested in rubber bullets and other "strike breaking" weapons.

It was just a disaster and a sad moment in history. No winners, only losers.

Meaning of "64" according to Wikipedia:

> alternative names have sprung up to describe the events on the Internet, such as May 35th, VIIV (Roman numerals for 6 and 4) and Eight Squared (i.e. 8^2=64).

The 6th month, the 4th day. You can ask a Chinese person what the events if the 6th month and 4th day were.

The economy was collapsing, navy was using war ships to smuggle sedans in.


> And later a lot of the original leaders revealed they are clueless in how to demand proper political reform at the original movement

So as many other political movements around the world. A spark comes first, then maybe fire.

However, spark is just spark. Protesters of 6.4 was demanding something big, too big to be realistic. So they failed, paid high price for it.

To eat an elephant, you have to chop it into pieces first, then eat it piece by piece. Trying to eat an elephant in one sitting will probably kill the eater.

BTW: China is still opening up politically, it's slow but still opening. 20 years ago you wouldn't even imagine to be able sue the government for whatever they did, today however it's fairly common in some cases.

Economy I think is the main factor that force China to be more open. It's open up or die situation, I don't think even CCP had too many choice.

> China is still opening up politically

Not true. The control was tighter and tighter, day by day after 2008.

Which control?

What been tightened up is censorship. However, censorship is not completely equals to control.

I know what you meant. You want all the rights in the constitution, so did I. But get things cooked require time. The current situation is, if you trying to get that a rush, then you will be cracked down and set everything back. Somebody tried that 30 years ago already and failed.

During the few decades of my life, what I've experienced is that the government move themselves more and more into a service role. The goal has been changed from gaining political dominance to generating profit. And they are more willing to act according to laws rather than just make some random new rules.

And all that is because we're now relying on an economy that depends on openness. Which, is hard to change as long as economical development is still the top one goal. And it will be, otherwise everything will fell apart.

So, unlike you, I'm pretty optimistic about the future. Few shady things and setbacks won't change that.

BTW: Here is something what you can do now:

1. Don't join them.

2. If you do join them, don't forget, one of the original goal of CCP is to bring democracy to China. So try do that from time to time as an inside job will you?

Of course, I personally like to keep things simple, I don't join them.

There was an opening for the 2008 olympics, then a clamp back, maybe we will see another attempt for the 2022 Olympics.

Given that there are so many Chinese students, tourists, and businessmen abroad and exposed to foreign media these days, how does these Chinese government manage to still keep a lid on this?

It's a really complicated problem. All Chinese people I've met in Europe (20 - 30 year olds) are aware of the story with all the gruesome details.

They have no problems talking about this with foreigners. They're a bit afraid to talk about it in China but it's not like everyone would report you for that (Orwell style).

On the other hand they sincerely believe CCP would rule forever, or at least until they die. They see no reason to rock the boat and potentially risk their careers or safety.

China is growing and developing really fast now and (from what I've heard) care more about the usual problems of a middle class than some historical tragedy.

This is a good book, a modern day Chinese version of 1984, and it dives right into the feigned ignorance that mainlanders are so practiced at these days. Written around a decade ago, before the rise of Chairman-For-Life Xi Jinping, but it was quite predictive of the changes which have occurred over the past few years.


That's exactly the question everybody who accept the interpretation from BBC and all western media should ask. In addtion, let's put the moral issue aside but consider only the intellgence of a regime that already achieved so many nation management goals and ask next question:

Is the regime so stupid to believe the cover up works while keep the openness?

The alternative theory/hypotheis which can explain much better: The ban never really mean to keep the lid which is impossible. In fact, most educated Chinese know(And with a little diffrent view today from westerners and their own thoughts 30 years ago. But that's another topic).

The real purpose of blocking information was an preemptive measure to disable the hidden agenda covered under those memorial activities which fool most people to believe that they are only memorial activities.

Propaganda works. You see it in authoritarian regimes and in western democracies.

Don't let Tianamen take your eyes off what the Chinese are doing right now.

In Xinjiang prison camps. Non-Han (mostly Moslem and Christian) Chinese citizens are imprisoned indefinitely in "reeducation" programs while simultaneously a campaign encouraging Han Chinese to migrate to Xinjiang is underway. The situation resembles Stalin's migration and imprisonment programs that killed off whole segments of Russian society during his reign.

Included are forced organ donation (death):

"Proof of China’s Organ Harvesting Found in Xinjiang":


"Chinese Authorities Draw Blood from Uyghurs in Xinjiang to Build Secret Organ Matching Database":


This was downvoted to death within 6 minutes.

Downvoters: why? Do you have evidence that contradicts this?

Wikipedia has compiled a shitload of sources reporting on this subject. It is happening.


The existence of the reeducation camps is also well documented.


This was downvoted to death within 6 minutes. Downvoters: why?

Perhaps people think it's off-topic, and distracts from the discussion at hand.

I remember having an online discussion about how the Chinese tourist stereotype is inaccurate, and how it affects Chinese-looking people in the west. Then a rando jumped in and listed all the evil things CCP has done, completely irrelevant to the topic at discussion.

Having a discussion about anything China is becoming increasingly difficult.

Given the prevalence and openly admitted nature of governments around the world who sockpuppet on various forums, I doubt it's going to get easier.

The US alone spends vast sums on trying to sway online opinion.

> This was downvoted to death within 6 minutes. Downvoters: why?

It was probably mostly automatic: it's a brand new account posting links, so looks (to a program) like a spammer.

The Gate of Heavenly Peace is a pretty great thorough documentary on the events of June 1989. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Gtt2JxmQtg

Got a lot of criticism for misrepresenting some people but it seemed surprisingly well balanced to me. Would love to hear some expanded critiques of it if anyone has one here.

By the way, Chinese "barrage" (弹幕) video/livestream sites (think YouTube, but comments fly over the pictures of the videos like bullets, hence the name), including Bilibili (listed on Nasdaq), Acfun and Douyu, blocked the barrage-comment functionality from around May 30 to June 6. YouTube-style static comments are still allowed though.

I recommend all of you to read this book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fat_Years


You need to establish that a 'China-like' control would actually prevent these kinds of problems in the first place. China has plenty of their own tragedy of the common problems. Power is less concentrated there with respect to many policies than it seems.

But assuming total concentration of power is possible long term, it only increases the likelihood of a better outcome for the powerful. To the extent that they need the rest of us that may also increase our chances of survival, but what happens if/when they don't?

Don't the centralized planning regimes end up grossly inefficient?

But, maybe that's a plus. A super corrupt and inefficient government that oppresses the people is going to be like North Korea and not give off that much pollution. So, perhaps if our only objective to optimize is minimal pollution, then 'China-like' is better than 'USA-like'. However, if that's our only objective we might as well nuke all living organisms so there is zero pollution emission.

On the other hand, if another objective is something like human flourishing, then 'USA-like' might be Pareto dominant when compared to 'China-like'. Even more so if human freedom is a necessary component of human flourishing.

I think central planning with no sensor data and human level only planning is destined to fail at national scale.

Central planning of a real time instrumented economy using super computers - well that might be more viable.

You are assuming humans are just inefficient computers, which is a big assumption. The human mind might, in fact, be inherently superior to computational mechanisms, and capable of doing things in finite time that a computer would require infinite computation to perform. Thus, if centralized humans cannot run things, then much less so can computers.

The debate between capitalism and communism is ultimately one of about the true nature of the human mind: is it a machine or a halting oracle?

It's hard to discuss an abstract idea like that in relation to a specific incident where specific people died.

I disagree. We need to see this idea at its worst to understand the best.

7 Billion dead humans because of 'Freedom' would be worse than a few hundred dead people?

But each dead person had a life and a story.

What is best?

'few hundred dead people' is putting it pretty light when looking at the history of 'China-like' regimes.

China helped themselves and the world massively with the one child policy, which arguably would have been impossible in a 'free country'.

In the meantime we're 7 billions and projected to reach 11 billions by the end of the century. We already can't seem to protect the environment today so I'm not holding my breath with a 40% population increase.


Not everyone shares your value system. (I do, but that's beside the point.)

You never know when the person you're responding to might be Pentti Linkola.

I'm obviously not Pentti Linkola, nor do I prefer or support dictatorship.

The point is that we're told that we are in a climate an environmental emergency situation. But what are the emergency measures we take to respond to that? Nothing. Oh yes we want to ban plastic straws...

We are not doing anything now and the situation can only become much worse with the projected population growth (which is one of the root causes of our environmental problems).

This is the reality.

So what if he is? Humanity can cover whole planet in asphalt and survive.

Of course the policy has sometimes been harshly enforced, which, again, is something that could not happen in a 'free country'.

But let's remove our pink tinted glasses. The reality is equally harsh: The WHO forecasts 250,000 extra deaths _a year_ between 2030 and 2050 because of climate change [0].

You're quite obviously misrepresenting what I wrote when you immediately equal it to "murdering people"...

[0] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-cha...


China no longer enforces one child policy in most places.


Abortion is not murder.


"Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


Most democracies have some process for a state of emergency when under threat, intended for wartime.

Wouldn't surprise me at all to find the climate crisis receiving little substantial action until such a state of emergency has to be triggered to deal with it. It's all very well declaring a state of climate emergency as UK parliament did, and Ireland shortly after, actually treating it as an emergency has yet to happen.

So whether it's a good idea may not matter if it's left so long it's the only idea - I only hope that like in wartime, it's a temporary state of affairs.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact