The ruling Chinese Communist Party's propaganda department has ordered the country's tightly controlled online media to delete an editorial hitting back at a recent open letter from overseas Chinese students to their counterparts in Chinese universities detailing the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led Tiananmen Square democracy movement.
The May 26 editorial ran in both Chinese and English versions of the Global Times tabloid, which has close ties to party mouthpiece the People's Daily, and said the letter showed that "hostile overseas forces" are trying to turn Chinese people in their 20s and 30s against the party.
"All websites must urgently delete the Global Times commentary "Overseas Forces Attempt to Incite Post-80s, 90s Generation," (May 26, 2015)," the China Digital Times website, which monitors propaganda directives to the Chinese media, said.
The letter, authored in early May by U.S.-based Chinese student Gu Yi and signed by 10 other named overseas Chinese students, calls on Beijing to allow greater transparency around the events of June 3-4, 1989, when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) deployed troops with tanks and machine guns to clear democracy protesters who had paralyzed central Beijing for several weeks.
"Twenty-six years ago on June 4, a group of young students like us in the full bloom of their youth, who harbored a precious dream for their country, were mown down in the streets of Beijing by the guns of the people's army," the letter said.
"This piece of history has been so extensively deleted and carefully edited, that people of our age group know very little about it."
The letter goes on to detail some of the events of the night of June 3, 1989, when long columns of PLA tanks thundered down the major boulevards of the city, firing on protesters and bystanders, and crushing students.
It hits out at the official government verdict of the crackdown as a necessary response to rebellion, saying that the problems of corruption and close ties between government and business highlighted in 1989 have become far worse today, while anyone who tries to speak out about the massacre is sent to jail.
"Not only has the Chinese Communist Party not published reliable figures about the number of deaths and injuries in this crucial historical event; it has described it as 'putting down a counterrevolutionary riot,' or 'political turmoil,'" the letter said.
"It has deliberately set out to erase people's memories [of the event] ... and June 4 is a date so sensitive that nobody can talk about it," it said.
The letter doesn't call for a reappraisal of the crackdown, but for the perpetrators—"this murderous regime"—to be brought to justice.
"We do not forgive or forget, until the continuing persecution is halted and justice is done," the letter says.
The Global Times' English version of the editorial, which was still available online on Wednesday, said the letter was "insulting," and recalled the rhetoric of earlier pro-democracy activists.
"Those young people have been brainwashed in foreign countries," the editorial said, blaming "a small minority" of pro-democracy activists exiled in the Western countries in the wake of the crackdown.
"Most have detached themselves from politics while a minority of the minority are stuck with the old stance, financially aided and manipulated by overseas hostile forces to upset China," the paper said, adding that the lack of debate of the June 4 crackdown was the result of a "consensus" in Chinese society.
"Students born in the 1980s and 1990s have become the new targets of overseas hostile forces," it said, accusing the letter-writers of "trying to drag up history in an attempt to tear apart society."
China bans public debate or memorial activities marking the "Beijing Spring" of 1989, and has ignored repeated attempts by victims' group the Tiananmen Mothers to win a reappraisal of the bloodshed, including compensation for lost loved ones.
Last year, authorities arrested dozens of high-profile activists including prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and veteran political journalist Gao Yu, after they organized a seminar to discuss the event ahead of the 25th anniversary.
Gao was jailed for seven years last month for "leaking state secrets overseas," while Pu faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for each of the two public order and ethnic hatred charges against him.
In Hong Kong, the only Chinese city which still holds an annual memorial event typically attended by tens of thousands of people, activists plan to gather for a candlelight vigil in the city's Victoria Park as usual next week.
But a discussion with Beijing on Hong Kong electoral reforms that sparked the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in the city last year has been called by Chinese officials on the same day, forcing pan-democratic legislators— who are among the event's key organizers—to choose between the two.
Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.