China's Internet giant Baidu.com is blocking keyword searches linked to the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests as Beijing attempts to throttle discussion ahead the 27th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations.
The move follows a period of relative freedom to search for June 4-related "sensitive words" in recent months. It was not clear if the brief relaxation of stringent censorship was deliberate or accidental.
A keyword search for "June 4" in Chinese resulted in the following message on Thursday: "We are unable to show you the relevant results, because the search term contravenes relevant laws and regulations."
The anti-censorship website GreatFire.org confirmed the findings, reporting that the keyword "June 4" in Chinese was 100 percent blocked on Baidu, although it appeared to be uncensored on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo.
Meanwhile, the tabloid Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, attacked recent reporting in Western media outlets of the scheduled release of Miao Deshun, the last prisoner jailed in the wake of the 1989 democracy movement.
Wrong side of history
"It is no cause for regret that Miao has spent the last 27 years in prison, where barely a note of his threnody for democracy has been heard," the paper wrote in a commentary in its Chinese edition on Thursday.
"How many people have been so sure of their opinions, so adamant that they were writing history, only to find that they were actually on the wrong side of it," the article reads.
"If you bet the wrong way, your life is worth less than a feather's weight," the article warned, apparently suggesting that the economic downturn is making Western countries more amenable to Beijing's way of doing things.
"There aren't many Western countries whose economies are doing well these days, and it seems that their financial support for the so-called democracy movement in China is tailing off," the article said. "They may say encouraging things, with the help of the Internet, which has just given a fresh minority of people some new illusions."
Germany-based journalist Su Yutong said dissidents in exile still remember the sheer number of people who fled the country, often at considerable personal risk, or who were jailed in the political crackdown that followed the bloodshed.
"They were forced to leave their homeland, and many of them continue to support the human rights movement in China to this day," Su said."Personally, as an exile myself, I maintain close but very secret connections with people inside China."
He added: "How can they say we are on the wrong side of history? They are talking about themselves."
Meanwhile, Beijing-based rights activist Wang Debang said the editorial represents the view of the ruling party on the 1989 student-led protests, which Beijing regards as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
But he said the attempt could backfire.
"The Global Times ... is bringing up 1989 ... because it is on the side of continuing repression by the Chinese government," Wang said. "But this will have the effect of lifting the taboo on discussion of such sensitive words," he said. "It will bring such events and people more clearly into the spotlight."
Economic analysis targeted
China is also seeking to extend ideological controls to the realm of economic analysis and forecasts, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.
The country's economists, analysts and business reporters are being ordered by securities regulators, media censors and other officials to bring their forecasts into line with more upbeat statements from the government, the paper cited sources close to the industry as saying.
Veteran financial journalist Ching Cheong said the attempt is part of a wider bid to get any form of public expression in China singing from the same hymn sheet, whether politically or economically.
"In the past, it was just aimed at foreigners, people like George Soros, but now they are extending that to cover your average analyst," Ching said. "This shows that, under the rule of Xi Jinping, they don't want to hear any critical voices."
Economics professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing University of Science and Technology said the move might not work, however.
"Everyone knows that the economy is a matter of objective fact, and not something that can be used to sing the praises of China," Hu said. "Personally, I don't agree with this, because trying to talk up the economy will put people on their guard."
Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.