China Blocks References to Stock Exchange on Tiananmen Anniversary

The anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China marks an annual struggle between the pro-democracy activists wishing to commemorate the event and the Chinese censors hoping to quash all online discussion of the sensitive topic. Censors block access to web services and ban words associated with the event, while activists attempt to find creative ways around the censors.

This year, censors extended the crackdown to an area typically free from online restrictions: discussion of the nation’s largest stock exchange. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped by 64.89 points, a coincidental allusion to June 4, 1989, when the Chinese Army crushed a pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square and killed hundreds of civilians.

According to The Wall Street Journal, censors monitoring China’s Twitter-like microblogging webservice Sina Weibo began blocking a number of terms referring to Tiananmen Square over the weekend in preparation for Monday’s anniversary, and responded quickly to the news of the Shanghai Composite Index.

Terms blocked by Sina Weibo included the Chinese characters for "Tiananmen," "square," and "candle,” and even seemingly innocuous words like "today." It also included numbers that could allude to the event, including 23 as well as combinations of 4, 6, 8, and 9.

The clampdown spread to the business and financial world—where censorship is less often a concern—when the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index first opened at 2346.98, containing all the tricky numbers, and then ended it down 64.89 points. Sina Weibo blocked use of the terms "index" and "Shanghai Index."

China Digital Times, a U.S.-based website that aggregates Chinese news, posted a lengthy list of terms that were banned on Sina Weibo. Readers also noted that censors had banned visual representations using Chinese characters.

What is apparent in this year’s online commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre is both the creativity of online netizens—and the willingness of online censors to extend their crackdown to different spheres of the Chinese Internet. A brief overview of the past few anniversaries illustrates the annual cat-and-mouse game between censors and activists as new technologies come into play.

2009: Prior to the 20th anniversary of the massacre, China blocked access to Twitter, Hotmail, Flickr, MSN spaces and several other web services. The crackdown was part of a larger effort to clamp down on dissent before the anniversary, including widespread arrests of government critics and censorship of both local and foreign media.

2010: In addition to the social media sites blocked in 2009, China also blocked Foursquare after users set their location to Tiananmen Square to commemorate the day. China also unblocked access to a large number of previously inaccessible sites, the majority of which were pornography websites.