Walls, However Great, Don’t Work

In a world of an increasingly omnipresent media, denial is becoming an endangered species. But not in China, where media censorship is increasingly omnipresent.

In an attempt to strengthen its great Internet firewall, China is requiring those usi

ng microblogs, China’s Twitter-like websites, to register their real names. According to recent Reuters reports, Chinese authorities have accused microbloggers of spreading “unfounded rumors and vulgarities,” online content unacceptable to the ruling Communist Party.

China’s Communist Party is denying Twitter users the right to freely blog — a right most Internet users in other countries enjoy. China also has in recent years worked to censor the Internet, thus denying its citizens the ability to easily access news and information of sensitive topics.

Unfortunately, China’s current leaders have failed to learn from their 5,500-year continuous history that walls don’t work. The most architecturally spectacular wall of all time, China’s Great Wall, took hundreds of years to construct and at one time snaked across some 5,500 miles of often rugged mountain ranges. Millions of the nation’s citizens were kept busy erecting the wall unsuccessful in keeping out invading Manchus and Mongols.

Just as the invading hordes breeched the Great Wall, China’s youth are able to learn through creative Internet circumvention about their government’s ethnic cleansing of some 1 million Tibetans, repression of the Falun Gong religion, denial of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo and the estimated 65 million people that international human rights organizations estimate were killed under Chairman Mao’s rule.

Denying open access to information and denying the accuracy of Western reporting about China have simply made the current youth of the Middle Kingdom more curious. For example, during my recent stay in Beijing I gave a series of lectures at universities in and near Beijing, and students asked the same question, either during my talks, in the Q&A sessions following the lectures, or in chats after my remarks: “Can you tell me what happened in Tiananmen,” they would ask.

They knew from my introductions that I had been the Christian Science Monitor’s Asia news editor during the late 1980s and they risked the sanctions of Communist Party members at the lectures by asking me — often publicly — about the events of 1989.

The Chinese government is careful to never mention Tiananmen. For example, in Quick Access to The People’s Republic of China: The First Sixty Years (1949-2009), displayed and sold at the National Museum of China, there is no mention of the June 4, 1989, protests that resulted in the massacre by soldiers of 400 to 3,000 Chinese protesters — many of them students — in the streets near the world’s largest public square.

Still, China’s digital natives know of the Tiananmen killings. And they want to know more; not only the truth about Tiananmen but truths of all aspects of their nation. This thirst for knowledge cannot be silenced by governmental denials or media censorship, for not only are Chinese youth smart and tech savvy, they also are well traveled and thus able to get information from all corners of he world — modern-day Manchus and Mongols all.

On my first week back in Carbondale an SIU student from China approached me after my introductory lecture and asked, “Can you tell me what happened in Tiananmen?”

Share our journalism