Chinese Netizens, Governments Around World Commemorate 30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
June 4, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

Chinese citizens have found subtle ways to mourn the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, amid continued government efforts to censor any mentions of the 30th anniversary of the Chinese regime’s brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Meanwhile, the United States, European Union, and other international bodies have renewed their criticisms of the Beijing regime for the violent crackdown and continued human rights abuses.

China Suppression and Resistance

In the early morning of June 4 in Beijing, police cars and trucks were seen blocking roads around Tiananmen Square, according to foreign media outlets. Police were only allowing people to enter the square by foot or by bike.

A cameraman from Agence France-Presse was blocked from entering when he approached the square. A security guard said that foreign journalists aren’t allowed to take pictures, and needed special approval to enter Tiananmen Square on June 4. Police officers threatened that engaging in “illegal media behavior” could affect visa renewals.

From videos that Chinese netizens shot and then uploaded to the internet, hundreds of police officers, plainclothes police, and security guards could be seen monitoring the square. Checkpoints were also set up where police checked people’s IDs, bags, and other possessions.

Meanwhile, Chinese netizens found out that on June 4 they could not access the internet using a virtual private network (VPN), a common tool netizens use to circumvent China’s firewall, which blocks websites and apps such as Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, and Western news media.

Chinese netizens said they could not send out an emoji of a candle via cell phone text message, likely because Chinese censors believe it represents people mourning victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Some Chinese dissidents have not been allowed to leave their homes, similar to previous occasions when authorities would monitor them closely ahead of sensitive dates. Others have been forced to travel to rural areas, as authorities fear that they would incite local protests.

In Shenzhen City of Guangdong Province, some people have had to present their IDs to ride the subway, according to a report by Radio Free Asia.

Some Chinese found clever ways to subtly commemorate the event.

A photo of a supermarket shelf has been spreading widely on the Chinese internet.

In the photo, six bottles of juice are purposely arranged so that their labels would spell out a message. The first four labels show the numbers 8964, which represents June 4 of 1989; the last two labels contain the Chinese characters for “students absent,” alluding to the fact that some students who protested at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago are no longer living.

Another photo, which appears to be a doctored image of a page within a Chinese almanac calendar, has also been making the rounds. The page marked June 4 has the message “do not speak.” At the bottom, where there is usually a Chinese astrological forecast, it reads: “This is a big year. People with basic common sense are mourning inside their hearts.”

Some netizens said they are on a hunger strike for 24 hours in remembrance of June 4 victims, while others said they lit candles. Many messages were later deleted by Chinese censors.

World Reaction

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement on June 3, called on Beijing “to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms,” noting that China’s human rights record has failed to improve since the events of 1989.

He also urged China to make a full public account of those killed or missing in the Tiananmen crackdown.

Meanwhile, European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini stated that on behalf of the 28 EU nations, he “strongly condemned the brutal repression” that had occurred at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago.

Ahead of vigils held at Liberty Square in Taipei City, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted on Facebook on June 4: “The Chinese government not only did not plan to repent for the past mistakes, but it also continued to cover up the truth.”

Tsai vowed: “Please be reassured—Taiwan will definitely defend democracy and freedom. Regardless of threats and infiltration [from Beijing], as long as I’m the president, Taiwan would not bow to pressure.”

Netizens found out that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulate offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, and other Chinese cities flew their flags at half-staff.

According to the U.S. government, this was not to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, but to honor victims of a mass gun shooting at Virginia Beach Municipal Center, Virginia on May 31. But Chinese netizens expressed that this gesture remained significant in their hearts.

The official Twitter account of the U.S. Mission in China posted a memorial video titled “China, 30 years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre” on June 3.


The embassy also posted on June 3 a brief description of the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, alongside a link to an official web post about the law, via its Weibo account. Weibo is a popular Twitter-like social media platform. Signed into law in December 2016, the bill authorizes the U.S. government to sanction foreign officials who are human rights offenders or engage in serious corruption by freezing their U.S. assets and banning them from entering the United States.

Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.