October 29, 2019
By King-wa Fu
Associate professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong
In 1989, when the spring met summer, most people in Hong Kong, no matter how ordinary they were, became a part of a once-in-a-lifetime, mind-blowing moment.
On April 15, Hu Yaobang, a leader widely known as a key reformer in post-Mao China and who had been sacked by the Chinese Communist Party two years earlier, died at the age of 73. In a moment defined by widespread inflation, corrupt bureaucracy, and the aftermath of an unsuccessful student movement, the former liberal leader’s death reminded citizens that these grievances remained unanswered. Hu’s death triggered a series of commemorations, student demonstrations, rallies, and occupations of one of China’s political and cultural landmarks, Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On May 19, the government issued martial law, sending troops and tanks to the Square and the surrounding regions. The suppression culminated in the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989.
Now, 30 years after the events at Tiananmen Square, most people in China still know little about this history.
At the time, most Chinese outside of Beijing didn’t know much about what was going on. The government censored information about the uprising, preventing missives from being published in newspapers or broadcast on the news. Now, 30 years after the events at Tiananmen Square, most people in China still know little about this history—despite the ubiquitousness of the internet in China. The reason? China’s infamous internet censorship system, the innovation that has earned the country the dubious accolade of “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom,” according to US-based think tank Freedom House.
At the time of Hu’s death, I was an ordinary freshman studying at The University of Hong Kong. I was having a fairly standard college experience, one that removed me from the “real world”—the university’s off-campus dormitory, called University Hall, is literally a castle. On that April 15, most students had locked themselves inside their dorm room or stayed in the library to prepare for exams. Every desk on the campus was quiet. [FULL STORY]