A widely shared photo of two track stars was deleted from Chinese social media this week because it made a passing reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
In another case of overly sensitive censors at work, the image of Chinese athletes Lin Yuwei and Wu Yanni embracing each other disappeared from posts on the social media app Weibo after the pair competed in the women’s 100m hurdles final at the Asian Games in Hangzhou had started. in China’s eastern Zhejiang province on Sunday.
Lin, the gold medalist, and Wu, who finished second before being disqualified for a false start, hugged after the event. However, soon social media users noticed that the photo in question no longer appeared in her posts. Further pictures of the route starts were preserved.
Chinese netizens familiar with China’s highly regulated information environment – sometimes called the “Great Firewall” – suspected that the image was created because of the easily missed reference to the Tiananmen Square incident, which appeared in competition numbers 6 and 4 of Lin and Wu insist that it was falsified. The numbers now correspond to June 4th, the date of the bloody suppression of democracy protests by the Communist Party 34 years ago.
The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is now only celebrated by activists outside China. Within its boundaries, even the vaguest references to the incident result in online censorship, ranging from account restrictions to permanent bans, often leading to the confusion of those on the receiving end.
China’s sophisticated internet filters and fast-acting online censorship apparatus have also blocked access to Western social media sites such as Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, for over a decade, further isolating its citizens from outside debate and discussion. Access to popular apps like Instagram is only possible through government-approved virtual private networks.
Chinese internet users have adopted clever codes, often in the form of puns, to bypass filters for banned topics. For a while, Weibo users wanting to complain about government corruption used a homonym written in various Chinese characters, but the country’s ever-vigilant censors eventually caught on.
In response to the recent removal of the Asian Games photo, one social media user said that the Chinese Communist Party still has no concerns about the “Streisand effect,” the unintentional phenomenon of drawing unwanted attention to the very issue, that people are trying to cover up.
The Asian Games were first organized in New Delhi, India in 1951 and are held every four years. In terms of size, they are second only to the Olympic Games. This year’s competition, which ends on October 8, includes 40 sports and 41 participating countries.