China arrests Hong Kong activist trying to memorialize Tiananmen Square (and what's up with Bing?)

AP Photo/Jeff Widener

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. For many years thousands of people would gather in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for a memorial service marking the day, but protests and public memorials were banned this year as they were last year.

In the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party has enforced widespread public amnesia of the 1989 killings, which left hundreds, if not thousands dead. But in Hong Kong, the massacre was a watershed moment in the city’s political consciousness, intensifying fear about Chinese control. For 30 years afterward, the Victoria Park vigil was a marquee event on many Hong Kongers’ calendars.

The vigil also came to signify more than the historical event itself, as it became a barometer of public sentiment toward the government. Interest had ebbed in recent years among some young people, who increasingly rejected the mainland and distanced themselves from its tragedies. But in times of political turmoil, turnout surged, including in 2019, when anti-government sentiment was on the verge of erupting into mass protests.

Then, in 2020, the government banned the vigil for the first time, citing public health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands turned out anyway.

Protesters are doing what they can to memorialize the day but any public show regarding Tiananmen is now cause for immediate arrest under the new national security law. Chinese police did arrest one pro-democracy activists early Friday morning:

Ms Chow is vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance which organises annual vigils for victims of Beijing’s deadly crackdown on democracy protesters.

She has been arrested for promoting unauthorised assembly.

It comes as Hong Kong has banned the vigil for the second year running, citing coronavirus restrictions.

Police have closed off Victoria Park, where citizens usually gather each year to mark the anniversary. Thousands of officers have been placed on standby to stop any attempt to hold the event.

China hasn’t made anyone forget but they have threatened people to the point that everyone is afraid of getting arrested. Meanwhile, closer to home, something peculiar has happened with Microsoft’s Bing search service which seems to think the entire world is now run by the CCP:

Microsoft blocked its search engine, Bing, from returning image and video results for the phrase “tank man” – a reference to the iconic image of a lone protester facing down tanks during the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square – on Friday, the 32nd anniversary of the military crackdown.

Users reported that no results were shown for the search query in countries including the US, Germany, Singapore, France and Switzerland, according to Reuters and Vice News…

Microsoft Bing is one of the few foreign search engines that are accessible in China, because the company has agreed to censor results for sensitive terms such as the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square or Falun Gong.

According to Microsoft, this is the result of “unintended human error.” As I write this, the error still hasn’t been corrected. A search for “tank man” on Bing returns the expected results under the “All” tab but if you click on the image results you get nothing referring to Tiananmen Square.

Remembering this is important not just for people in China and Hong Kong but for everyone. Tiananmen is a reminder that communist dictatorships would rather target and kill their own children than grant them the freedoms many Americans take for granted. This is the society China wants for Hong Kong, for Taiwan and ultimately for all of us. Here’s a BBC report on what led up to the crackdown 32 years ago today. (You may have to watch it on YouTube because it is age restricted.)