By Ma Latang
One day ahead of the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China’s largest and most popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo has deactivated two widely used emoticons on its service, one after the other.
Sometime on Sunday afternoon, Sina first removed the candle emoticon, which is often used by members on the site to mourn the deaths of people reported in the news.
When netizens discovered the icon was no longer showing up on the platform, they began using another icon recently introduced on the site to promote the London Olympics. That icon was later taken offline by Sina Weibo.
In addition, searches for the Chinese characters for “candle” (“蜡烛”) have also been filtered out on Sina Weibo due to “relevant policies and laws.”
Creative dissenters then began posting photos of clocks and watches indicating the time when the crackdown on the Tiananmen student protesters began. These posts were also deleted shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Sina Weibo users have reported being effectively gagged by the service.
George Chen, a financial editor with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, wrote on his Sina Weibo profile, “Many netizens here in Hong Kong have observed that starting from around 3pm, they’ve been either unable to tweet, or have had their tweets ‘locked up’, that is to say, the service gives you the impression you have successfully sent out your tweets, but in reality, you’re the only person who is able to see them. I originally didn’t want to say anything as I know it’s been hard on Sina Weibo, but this deception has been taken one step too far. Why have they singled out Hong Kong netizens? Everybody knows what’s in their minds.”
The tweet itself has since been removed on Sina Weibo, but here’s a screenshot:
Checks by Shanghaiist found the candle emoticon still live on Tencent Weibo, Sina’s leading rival in the microblogging arena. Search results for the term “candle” have also not been filtered.
Last week, protestors in the semi-autonomous territory marched on the streets to mark the anniversary of the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement as they have done yearly.
Taiwan has also urged China to reevaluate the Tiananmen incident, saying it would “be considered a critical index to measure the political institutional reforms to be launched by the mainland.”
Said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council in a statement, “The Chinese mainland should sincerely face the historical event and accordingly learn a human rights lesson from it and press for political reforms on top of the present open-up reform basis.”