Posts tagged ‘tiananmen square’
I’m tearing myself away from twitter right now to note that, since the aftermath of the disputed election in Iran last week, the much-maligned social networking site has all of a sudden become the most significant media outlet for information about the protests in that country. Search #iranelection and you get dozens of tweets and retweets every minute from Iranians on the ground reporting live in first person about the civil unrest there. Although Iranian security forces are trying to track and shut down tweeters, news is still pouring out of the country via the social media site much faster than it can be traced and eliminated. “it was a nightmare, I can barely breath & my face is burning, Masood got shot in the arm & Shayan’s brother is missing,” reads one tweet. “we ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction, at the same time basiji bastards started to hit fleeing people,” states another.
Mainstream media sources like msnbc.com and the BBC are suddenly the followers, not the leaders, of online, first-person news sources—the U.K. Telegraph, cnn.com and time.com are reporting on the latest twitter updates
Simultaneously, youtube has become the best up-to-the-minute source for raw, unmediated video from Iran. I just watched a clip of destruction of the headquarters of the Basij, the Iranian paramilitary force, which was posted almost immediately after its occurrence a few hours ago. A video of the death of a young woman who was shot by the Basij has been viewed by thousands since it was posted earlier today, further galvanizing protestors in Iran and worldwide.
Underscoring the influence of new media on what’s going on in Iran, embattled opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi released his most recent statement to his supporters not through a traditional news source but as a status update to his facebook page. The message reads simply, “Today you are the media, it is your duty to report and keep the hope alive,” suggesting that Mousavi is cognizant of the power of Iranians using the Internet to keep the outside world informed.
It’s impossible to predict how events will play out in Iran but it’s interesting that this is all taking place close on the heels on the 20th anniversary of the suppression of protestors in Tiananmen Square. With the world’s new ability to watch in real time and with more ready access to eyewitness accounts, will things turn out differently than they did two decades ago? Thus informed, will we be able to take action when we need to, or will we be paralyzed by our fascination with the spectacle? Will the arc of the universe bend towards justice this time?
Thanks to al rodgers at dailykos.com for the photos: many more here.
UPDATE: Go here for a list of tweeters to follow, plus much more.
UPDATE 2: New York Times article about Iran/twitter here.
UPDATE 3: Since first publishing this post three days ago some of the people I’ve been following on twitter, notably change_for_iran, have stopped updating. I suspect this is due to increasing limitations on internet traffic from Iran; I hope it’s not a sign of something more ominous. However, there are still several good sources to be found from the list in the first update, plus a great nightly English translation of significant Farsi tweets here.
Meanwhile, #iranelection has become somewhat useless as it’s jammed with spammers and other irrelevant tweets. But it’s probably still more current than, say, cnn or the New York Times right now.
UPDATE 4: June 24–possible bad news about another twitterer I’ve been following, persiankiwi. The last few tweets have been quite frightening & as of four hours ago have ended altogether. One of the last tweets: “we must go – dont know when we can get internet – they take 1 of us, they will torture and get names – now we must move fast.”
UPDATE 5: July 17–change_for-iran is back online. still no word from persiankiwi. Go here for good updates in English.
I confess to being taken by melancholy this week as I recalled the events on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But it’s a good opportunity to think back on those fateful days from a perspective of twenty years later.
In the six weeks prior to when things all went to hell on June 4 two decades ago, students and workers were peacefully occupying the Square and sympathy was growing across China for their demands for reforms to China’s political and economic systems. Sometime during those six weeks I remember talking on the phone with my friend Rebecca. We thought we were witnessing a revolution in the works and that the Chinese people’s voices would surely be heeded.
Terribly, things turned out differently than we’d hoped and the insurrection was violently crushed by the tanks and guns of the People’s Liberation Army. More horribly, the numbers of the dead were never confirmed, as many bodies were burned in mass cremations, and many other demonstrators were taken elsewhere for execution. China’s official tally of those killed was a ridiculously lowball count of 241 people, most of whom were deemed by the government to be “ruffians” and “armed thugs” who weren’t actually students. The government also claimed that no one was killed in the Square itself. Other estimates by NGOs on site range from 500 to 7,000 people killed that day.
This morning Rebecca forwarded me a link to a project by artist Michael Mandiberg that utilizes the famous image of the Tank Man, the anonymous protestor who blocked a column of tanks the day after the PLA cleared Tiananmen Square of demonstrators. Four years ago Mandiberg conducted an experiment in which he sent copies of the Tank Man image to a dozen commercial artists in China and asked them to paint a replica of the picture. The responses from the artists suggest that some if not all of them were unaware of the image and its historical context, and few knew its source.
“Of the dozen requests I sent, most were returned with a price and the universal salutation “it is a pleasure to do business with you.” A few painters suggested I just leave the man and the lamp post out, often for unclear reasons: political or aesthetic? One person outright declared that he could not paint the image.”
In the West the image of the Tank Man is well-known, as photographs and video footage of his actions that day were widely disseminated throughout the media at the time. However, in China the image is largely unrecognized, due to the government’s attempts to erase the June 4 events from public memory.
The government has achieved this in part through its severe restrictions on Internet access. In recent days, in an attempt to prevent the Chinese citizenry from getting to online discussions of the Tiananmen Square killings, the Chinese government blocked access to twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites, as well as blogging sites such as wordpress, xanga and blogspot.
But before we go too far in excoriating the Chinese government for its erasure of June 4, let’s remember that historical amnesia is not unique to China. Many World War II Nazi concentration camps sites in Europe have been razed or otherwise obliterated. The Japanese government still hasn’t acknowledged the Rape of Nanking. And lest we start to feel too pleased with ourselves here in the U.S. let’s not forget the Bush Administration’s multiple attempts to rewrite reality, from un-defining waterboarding as torture to linking Iraq to the destruction of the World Trade Center.
So on this grim anniversary it’s vitally important to remember the untold numbers of demonstrators who were silenced twenty years ago on Tiananmen Square. But it’s also significant to note that the Chinese government doesn’t stand alone in its disregard for facts and that our constant vigilance is required to keep ignorance and the obliteration of history at bay.
UPDATE: Thanks to dleedlee for sending along the following information, which fills in some of the backstory of the Tank Man photos and video.
FYI, Frontline is rebroadcasting its The Tank Man program this week.
Also, a New York Times blog posted this interesting piece on the various versions of the ‘tank man’ photo(s).
And artist Michael Mandiberg sent me a further link to his flickr site, which contains all of the images from his series:
I don’t know if I need to add too much to this. It’s an image and a moment that should never be forgotten.
Tank man, June 5, 1989, Tiananmen Square, Beijing