BEIJING – The doors to Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, located just south of Tiananmen Square, open to the public every morning (except Mondays) at 8 o’clock. The imposing building typically receives a steady stream of visitors from around the world to view the final resting place of Mao Zedong, China’s leader from 1945 until his death in 1976.
But a recorded telephone voice at Chairman Mao Memorial Hall announced today that the north and south courts of the hall are closed to the public between June 2and June 5 because of construction. The closure falls on the 24th anniversary of the June 3-4 uprising in Tiananmen Square.
It is just one of a number of closures, crackdowns and other preventative measures taken by the Chinese government every year at this time. It was on the eve of June 3, 1989, when the Chinese military moved into Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese activists – the vast majority of them students – had been protesting in the name of democracy and widespread political reform since April of that year.
A violent crackdown ensued as the military carried out orders to clear the square – at any cost – through the night and into the morning of June 4. The number of civilians killed that day might never be known.
Signs of the government’s determination to quell even the faintest hint of a movement motivated by the anniversary are familiar.
Key search terms, from “June 4″ to “Tiananmen” to even “uprising” and more, have been censored on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. There were indications earlier this week that censors had possibly backed down.
On Monday, users could enter something as specific as “Tiananmen Square Massacre” without immediately receiving the familiar notification, “the information requested cannot be displayed due to relevant laws, regulations and policies.”
But the results that came back were either about a different protest (articles on protests during April 1976, staged by ultra-leftists known as the “Gang of Four,” popped up) or simply benign in nature. Mostly they were images of the square on a beautiful day.
In one, a small child holding China’s red flag plays in the foreground. Anything more specific, however, elicited the old notification. Entered “June 4th democratic movement” prompted an error message.
And several dissidents who’re normally outspoken on Twitter and Weibo, as well as academics generally able to comment on even sensitive topics, refused to speak on the record.
Tsering Wooser, a renowned author and advocate for Tibet, said she and her husband had been under house arrest for several days with a “minder” posted at her building’s elevator. Professor Xu Youyu of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who was in Tiananmen June 3, 1989, told ABC News the police had arrived at his house to monitor him and he had been specifically warned against doing interviews.
Even Ding Zilin, one of the so-called Tiananmen Mothers who lost a child during the uprising and is normally available for comment, was unreachable.
Indeed, the only exchange approaching any kind of public dialogue on the topic took place between the U.S. State Department and China’s Foreign Ministry. The State Department issued the following May 31:
“The 24th anniversary of the violent suppression in Tiananmen Square on June 4 prompts the United States to remember the tragic loss of innocent lives. We renew our call for the Chinese government to end harassment of those who participated in the protests and fully account for those killed, detained or missing. We renew our call for China… to end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei shot back Sunday, “We urge the US side to discard political prejudice, correctly treat China’s development, immediately rectify its wrongdoings and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs so as not to sabotage China-US relations.”
The Chinese response was short, but at least it was something.
The Tiananmen Mothers, an advocacy group for victims’ rights, released a statement through the organization Human Rights in China. In 24 years, the group has written 36 successive open letters calling for re-opening the investigation of events, prosecution of the men and women responsible, compensation for victims’ families and more.
“To this day,” their statement read, “all our efforts have been in vain, we have received not a single response from the government.”