The state is enforcing a collective amnesia about not only recent political events but those that happened thousands of years ago
On that day the Communist party sent tanks to clear protesters from Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing, killing hundreds of people, maybe more than a thousand. In the intervening years, China has systematically erased the evidence and memory of this violent suppression using its increasingly hi-tech apparatus of censorship and control.
We know this first-hand: one of us was present in Beijing in 1989, while the other wrote a book on Tiananmens legacy. Neither of us ever intended to become an activist, yet to broach the subject of 4 June publicly is to challenge the Communist partys silence and counter Beijings attempts at excising this episode from history. Journalists generally shy away from taking political or ideological positions and yet, since China has for 30 years tried to deny its crime, the simple act of writing about it unwittingly tips us into activism.
Separately, weve witnessed the success of Beijings Great Forgetting. At public talks and in private conversations, weve been present at that split second when an eyewitness to the crackdown suddenly realises how their memories have been manipulated. Weve both seen that moment of shock and discombobulation and heard various versions of the same statement: I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. But I havent talked about it for so long that Id put it out of my mind. Until this moment, I literally forgot I had been there.
We only realised the extent to which we too had internalised Chinese censorship when we began to discuss the sense of transgression we felt in broaching so taboo a topic. We experienced this separately over more than two decades, showing how successful the party-state has been in pathologising reporting on Tiananmen, seeding self-regulating, self-censoring mechanisms, even among foreign journalists.