A photograph of two Chinese athletes embracing has been scrubbed off social media and online platforms in China, purportedly due to an inadvertent reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Censorship controversy: The image shows Chinese hurdlers Lin Yuwei and Wu Yanni locked in a hug after their women’s 100-meter hurdles final on Oct. 1 at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. Their lane numbers, 6 and 4, formed the numbers “64,” which many interpret as a reference to the date of the highly sensitive event.
About the massacre: The Tiananmen Square massacre remains one of the darkest chapters in modern Chinese history. On June 4, 1989, Chinese military tanks rolled into Beijing to violently suppress students protesting for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The crackdown resulted in a tragic loss of life and became a symbol of government repression. Discussion on the event is considered taboo in China and any public references to it are tightly controlled by the government.
Scrubbed off online: State broadcaster CCTV originally posted the photograph on Weibo but removed it shortly after. Subsequent searches on the platform failed to yield the same image and it is nowhere to be found on Chinese search engine Baidu.
The timing of the purported censorship incident is notable, as it occurred on China’s National Day, a day when authorities are especially vigilant against any form of dissent that might distract from the celebrations.
Influence over sporting events: The incident is part of a broader picture of China’s control over international events, particularly involving Taiwan. At the Asian Games, Taiwanese athletes are required to use the name “Chinese Taipei” instead of “Taiwan.”
Despite the political backdrop, China attempts to maintain a welcoming image to Taiwanese athletes and fans during the Asian Games. The opening ceremony saw a warm reception for the Taiwanese delegation, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in attendance. Events where Taiwan succeeds often feature Chinese fans cheering, showcasing China’s strategy of wooing Taiwan’s people while exerting military pressure.