Yesterday was the anniversary of something, that according to Beijing, we’re not supposed to talk about. Zhongnanhai was worried enough to shut down the micro blogging service, Twitter, the video-sharing website, Youtube, and the blogging platforms, WordPress and Blogger. The intent behind it was to smother all talk about the event on the mainland, but by doing so they only increased the discussion outside of China.
If China had chosen not to silence discussion of Tiananmen, it would probably only be remembered by a few activists inside the country and commemorated by some token news stories. There wouldn’t have been a week of media coverage in the runup up to anniversary detailing the ways Beijing was cracking down on dissent, or about undercover police officers blocking foreign cameramen in Tiananmen Square — thereby making it sound like a bigger deal than it already was.
Instead, if Beijing allowed free discussion of the anniversary, or even a small registered protest in the square, the narrative in the international media would be that China is recognizing the dark parts in its past and openly allowing discussion about them.
Few in China today really care about the events in Tiananmen Square. China has changed significantly since 1989. Levels of personal income have risen significantly and people increasingly look not towards the government, but to commerce and their jobs to enrich their lives. A good portion of young people know about the protests, but they just don’t hold much significance for the younger generation. They have a better life than those who protested on the square and therefore they’re less likely to make a fight for greater rights today.
But it’s probably not the people that wish to remember the events of June 4, 1989 that Beijing is worried about. It’s the protests over factory closures, the forced relocations and local corruption that are happening right now across the country. Those protests signal a high level of instability and policymakers don’t like instability. It appears their logic is that should anyone with a grievance against the government witness protests on the anniversary of Tiananmen, they might get ideas. But I don’t think those "ideas" have their source in the protests of 1989. The protests of 1989 were over different issues and in a different China. They’re not something that can lead to protests today.