Protests move into new phase 20 years after Tiananmen

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the June 4 culmination of a weeks-long protest in Beijing to commemorate the April 15, 1989 death of Hu Yaobang, a prominent reformer within the Chinese government. On June 4, 1989, Chinese tanks invaded Tiananmen Square, the center of the Beijing protests. As a result of the government’s actions, hundreds died and thousands more were wounded.

This past weekend, Hong Kong held a large protest to remember the protest of a past era — as such a protest could likely never be held again in the same way on the mainland.

The Wall Street Journal notes that in recent years, protests in China have shifted to poorer, lesser-educated rural people instead of the intellectual middle-class.

In 1989, college campuses were hotbeds of dissent in Beijing. Tens of thousands of residents took to the streets, with protests swelling over the course of a month before they were quelled by guns and tanks. The latest crop of college students — most of whom are too young to remember the tumultuous events of 1989 — are focused on career advancement in a market-driven economy, and have little time for political activism, historians and educators say.

Protest leaders in the capital today are mainly out-of-town petitioners — inheritors of an age-old tradition under which ordinary citizens from the provinces turn to the central government to enlist the help of powerful officials to right personal wrongs. But now petitioners have begun to organize, joining together to protest many different issues, rather than just their own cause.

There’s also a level of technological sophistication being carried out both by the Chinese government today, and the new generation of protestors, the Journal reports.

In the post-Tiananmen era, the Communist government’s methods of political control have grown more sophisticated. For instance, officials have become adept at swaying public opinion. They still censor the media, but increasingly use more subtle methods, such as paying contributors to popular Internet forums to steer discussions, according to people who closely watch the Internet.

The government tightly controls content posted online by Web sites registered in China. China asks Web site owners whom it licenses to filter out content related to politically sensitive issues and periodically blocks overseas Web sites with content it deems objectionable.

China rarely acknowledges its censorship, but has said on a few occasions that it is not the only government that regulates the Internet.

But protesters have gotten more sophisticated too. Ms. Shen carries two cell phones and three SIM cards with different phone numbers. One is a registered contact number that the government has on file, which she usually keeps off so she can’t be traced. Another she uses to keep in touch with other petitioners. The third is always on and used to communicate with trusted friends and family. Some protesters pluck the batteries out of their phones as they move around the city so authorities can’t track their progress.

In addition, as the country gets ready for the upcoming 20th anniversary, Beijing has already taken some “precautions” — Twitter has been blocked across the entire country beginning at 09h00 GMT on June 2.

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