Chinese Daily Breaks Tiananmen Taboo

While the Chinese government has been busy closing down access to Web sites like Twitter and YouTube that may post content relating to today's 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989, an official Beijing newspaper has quietly published a discussion of the event in a rare and tantalizing display of editorial independence.

“We did The first June 4 Story in about 20 years,” said a staffer with the paper. “We have broken a huge taboo.”

On top of an earlier story this week in the paper, the articles are believed to be the first mention of the Tiananmen events in the mainstream media since 1989.

Media reports about the anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the protest have highlighted the fact that there is no reporting on the incident in China. But Global Times, whose English edition is less than a year old, has been allowed to cover the subject for reasons unknown even to the paper's staff.

Published by the People's Daily, Global Times is designed to address a foreign audience and to widen Beijing's appeal to the West. That may explain why the paper has more latitude than other publications.

The Chinese language version of the paper, a populist-style tabloid, has been around since the early 1990s. The paper carried a brief mention of Tiananmen but not the same articles that appeared in the English edition.

“Twenty years after the June 4 Tiananmen incident, public discussion about what happened that day is almost nonexistent in mainstream society on the Chinese mainland,” the paper wrote in a P. 1 piece that also appeared on the front page of the paper's Web site (http://www.globaltimes.cn/).

“It’s still a sensitive topic. Scholars, officials and businessmen declined interviews with the Global Times on the subject. And searches for “June 4 incident” on the Chinese versions of Google, Baidu and Yahoo were blocked.”

Headlined “Prosperity tangible along Chang'an Ave,” in reference to the street where Tiananmen Square is located, the story is hardly revolutionary by Western standards but it boldly goes where no Chinese newspaper has gone before by mentioning the anniversary by name. On P. 2 of the paper there were additional stories on the incident, one of them discussing why Chinese economic growth has soared in the last 20 years.

In the main piece, people are interviewed about their memories of what happened 20 years ago, although the paper hews close to the official line that China's prosperity has increased because of the Communist Party's leadership.

“While putting aside debate on the June 4 incident for two decades, most people in China have devoted most of their energy and enthusiasm to economic reform, leading to continuous rapid GDP growth and causing foreign media to call China a 'world power,'” the paper wrote approvingly.

The paper also quoted experts saying that the crackdown on the protests allowed China to avoid the kind of turmoil that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Interviewing a man named Li Xiang, who was a child at the time of the massacre, the paper asked for his reflections.

“'I was happy for no school and no homework,' Li said. 'My parents watched news broadcasts on CCTV attentively with serious looks. I also took a few glimpses. The pitch-black burnt bodies of soldiers impressed me, but I had no idea what happened.'”

The paper went on to note that “many of the protestors at Tiananmen Square became university professors, industrial leaders, executive editors and government officials.” But it also, surprisingly, admitted that some protest leaders from 1989 “are still sticking to their cause overseas.”

Staffers at the paper, which is edited by Hu Xijin, say it was the paper's own decision to run the articles and that they were not cleared with People's Daily.

“It was touch and go, but it got through,“ said one of Global Times English-language editors. ”Everyone here now is a bit nervous waiting for some 'official' reaction and not sure if there will be one or not. But the editor is walking around the office with a huge grin on his face. He's a happy guy for now.”