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Tiananmen Square massacre censorship boomerangs on China with the country’s top livestreamer’s disappearance

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(TibetanReview.net, Jun07’22) – China has largely succeeded in erasing among its youths memories of the Jun 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of peaceful protesters who demanded democratic reforms and an end to corruption by use of tanks and armed troops. Its youths, born post that event, have grown up ignorant of it. But a tank-shaped ice cream show by Li Jiaqi, the country’s top e-commerce livestreamer, and, especially, the government’s abrupt ending of it on Jun 3, and the continued disappearance of his show thereafter, has his 50 million followers bewildered, asking what it was all about, reported the edition.cnn.com Jun 7.

Well, their question cannot be answered without talking about the Tiananmen Square massacre in all its gory details, exactly what the Chinese government has been desperately seeking to avoid for the last 33 years through a draconian ban on any commemoration, discussion or even a hint of a mention of that indelible stain on the history of the Communist Party of China.

Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times, a US-based news website tracking censorship in China, has called it the “Streisand effect,” referring to the unintended consequence of drawing attention to information by trying to have it censored.

“Censorship is all about keeping the truth from the public. But if people don’t know about it, they are bound to keep making ‘mistakes’ like this,” he has said.

The report noted that a similar incident had happened last year when Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social app similar to Instagram, had its Weibo account shut down after the company asked in a post on Jun 4: “Tell me loudly, what is the date today?”

* * *

In the present case, it all began with Li Jiaqi and his co-host presenting to the audience a plate of Viennetta ice cream from the British brand Wall’s. The layered ice cream, garnished with Oreo cookies on its sides and what appeared to be a chocolate ball and a chocolate stick on top, resembled the shape of a tank – an extremely sensitive icon to be displayed in public just hours before the midnight Jun 4, the report noted.

Chinese influencer Li Jiaqi holds a layered ice cream that resembles the shape of a tank. (Photo courtesy: CNN)

It was exactly on the eve of Jun 4, 1989 that Chinese leaders sent in tanks and heavily armed troops to clear Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where protesters, mostly students, had gathered for weeks to demand democratic reforms, end to corruption, and greater freedoms. Up to 10,000 peaceful protesters were estimated to have been massacred on that fateful night.

Any classroom, media and online mention of that communist party of China’s sanguinary declaration of victory has remained strictly banned ever since. Censors are particularly vigilant in the lead-up to its anniversary, swiftly scrubbing even the vaguest references – from candle emojis to coded phrases like “May 35” – from the internet, the report noted.

As a result, many young Chinese – especially those born after the massacre – have grown up with little or no knowledge at all of the tragedy.

* * *

So it was no surprise that many of Li’s mostly young fans were puzzled by the sudden suspension of his Friday show, during which he sold a wide range of snacks and drinks from cookies to sodas.

“What on earth happened to Li Jiaqi? All of a sudden his livestream is gone. Can anyone who knows about it tell us?” a user was reported to have asked on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

The report noted it as possible that Li himself, born in 1992, was also unaware of the symbolism. Having made his name as the “Lipstick King” after selling 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes in 2018, he had been careful to stay in the good books of authorities.

But as many of his peers have found out, a careless political mistake risks losing business sponsorships or worse, the report noted.

* * *

No real explanation was offered for the disruption and then disappearance of Li’s show. Shortly after his livestream was cut, Li told his 50 million followers on Weibo that his team was fixing a “technical glitch” and asked them to “wait for a moment.” Two hours later, he apologized in another post that the live broadcast could no longer resume that evening due to “a failure of our internal equipment.”

“Everybody please go to bed early. We will bring you the products that have not been broadcast (tonight) in future livestreams,” he was stated to have written.

But the promised livestreams never came. On Jun 5, Li failed to show up for another scheduled show, further confounding and worrying fans, the report noted.

His name was later seen censored. On Jun 5, a search for Li’s name no longer returned relevant results on Taobao, the online shopping site where Li’s show was live streamed. He boasts 60 million followers on the site, the report said.

Meanwhile, on Weibo, posts and comments linking the suspension of Li’s broadcast to the tank-shaped ice cream were stated to have started to proliferate. Some fans have said they found out about the sensitivity of the tank symbol by circumventing China’s Great Firewall of online censorship, alluding to the massacre as “that event.” The discussions happened in veiled terms under the watchful eyes of censors, and many of them disappeared soon after they were posted, the report noted.

But many of the posts were stated to be still supportive of the communist party of China government.

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