China's 'Online Tiananmen'

A 1989 dissident leader hears echoes from two decades ago.
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Chinese netizens surf the Web at an Internet cafe in Hefei, in central China's Anhui province, Jan. 25, 2007.
Chinese netizens surf the Web at an Internet cafe in Hefei, in central China's Anhui province, Jan. 25, 2007.

HONG KONG—A former student leader from China's 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement has called current online protests against government curbs on the Internet an "online Tiananmen," saying the spirit of online activists is the same as that seen 20 years ago in Beijing.

"I have seen these online forums in China," said Feng Congde, who fled China after the People's Liberation Army (PLA) cleared the capital of protesters and hunger-strikers with tanks and machine guns on the night of June 3, 1989 and in the days that followed.

Many of China's Web users are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the Chinese government's sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the Great Firewall (GFW).

Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to get around the blocks and filters.

"They are also gathered together, many people with the same thoughts," Feng said. "They have the same aims, and they too are very angry."

"I think that if they continue to gather momentum, then there is genuine hope for justice in Chinese society."

He cited the case of Feng Zhenghu, who was finally allowed back to China recently after a huge online support campaign for his 92-day sit-in protest at Japan's Narita Airport.

"What the Chinese Communist Party fears most is people getting together with a single purpose," Feng said. "It's the same as what happened on Tiananmen Square in 1989."

"The Internet is the new theater of war. A bigger Tiananmen and a larger space for demonstrations," he added.

Support for 'Internet revolution'

Feng said he supported a recent declaration by former Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan and 20 others in which they call for an "Internet revolution" to break down barriers to free speech in China.

While Wang has stopped short of calling for cyber-attacks on Chinese government sites, he is urging a share of technology to bypass restrictions imposed on Internet access.

Wang's Facebook page shows a list of supporting signatures from students, writers, and ordinary citizens from around the world, including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, the U.K., Singapore and France.

China's netizens are expected to pass the 400 million mark in 2010, according to the declaration.

Posted on Wang's Facebook page Feb. 12, the declaration urges people all over the world to help topple the Great Firewall.

"Blogs, forums, or chatrooms...everywhere can be a battlefield, " the declaration says. However, "no bloodshed or sacrifice is needed," it adds.
Declaration signatory and U.S.-based political commentator Chen Pokong said the Chinese government had sent a clear, unspoken message, with the suppression of Charter 08, an online document calling for sweeping political reforms, and the 11-year jail term handed down to one of its drafters, Liu Xiaobo, for "subversion."

"That message is that they don't care if you're moderate, or if you try to have a dialog. All they will recognize is force," Chen said. "So if you think you've got what it takes, just you try starting a revolution."

"This is a challenge to the willpower, the determination and the ability of China's opposition movement," Chen said.

Currently, China has around 384 million Web users.

Original reporting in Mandarin by CK and Tang Qiwei. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Comments (1)

Anonymous Reader

Online activism is great. Internet censorship is illegal and should be taken down. But online freedom isn't enough. In order for there to be genuine change for better human rights in China, China needs a free & independent media. It's media censorship which does more damage than Internet censorship.

There may be 300 million Chinese netizens but there are over 800 million Chinese who don't have regular online access. The only way to educate them about human rights & CCP oppression is to have a free print, TV & radio media. Only a free & independent media can monitor the govt & report on govt violations of civil rights.

Feb 25, 2010 10:09 AM





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