They say the future isn’t yet written. However, we sometimes get a sneak peek of what’s in store for us. That peek can help us assess the direction we’re moving in and can give us a chance to change it. The world just got a glimpse into one of our most unimaginably terrible futures and no one noticed.
Last week was the thirty-second anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, where civilians were tired of corruption in their government and the lack of power or ability to do anything about it, so they decided to take to the streets to effect change. It was an amazing display of the human spirit. Here were a people who have no voice standing up and asserting themselves against an oppressive regime.
It was also iconic because of the daring stand of Tank Man, an unknown citizen who stood in front of the Chinese Communist Party’s tanks as they attempted to leave the square. Each time the tanks moved to go around this man, he would move to further block them. The image of Tank Man, whose identity is still unknown, was burned into retinas around the world as a symbol of the human desire for freedom and self-governance.
And while the protests did result in some changes, there weren’t many, and Chinese citizens enjoy fewer freedoms and economic opportunities than ever. Some are subject to ethnic cleansing maneuvers as well. It should be particularly distressing that the number of protesters who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre can’t even be agreed on. Numbers from the Chinese Government assert the number is as low as 300 and that none of them actually died IN the square, while others place the figure anywhere between 2400 and 10,000.
Why the disparity? Because of the closed and secretive nature of the Chinese Communist government, and their desire to control their own narrative. And that narrative is, “Everything’s perfect and sunny in Communist-controlled China!”
How badly do the Chinese Communists want to control their narrative? They have a history of rewriting history and restricting information. We’ve spent the past year witnessing this very thing as the origins of SARS-CoV2 have been muddied, inspections have been stymied, and blame for the virus has been thrown by the Chinese Government at everyone from the US to England to Italy to India.
Despite knowing exactly what this regime does and is out to do, American companies are all too eager to jump into bed with them as long as it makes them money. We’ve seen Hollywood’s output become more and more China-centric. We’ve seen the biggest companies in the world making concessions to the Chinese Communist Party that in any other era would be called unreasonable and definitely censorship.
Now, there’s this.
I mentioned the Tiananmen Square massacre’s anniversary because it’s a pivotal display of humanity standing up to a monster. Those people didn’t win their fight, but their images persevere, as they should. They continue to inspire, as they should. But they don’t get the chance to inspire where they should: in China.
China bans the images of the Tiananmen Square massacre (and has even gotten involved as to whether or not Wikipedia can refer to it as a “massacre”), and the American-based major search engines—google and Bing—and major corporations that do business with China—Amazon, Disney, Nike—oblige them. To see these titans of American industry put aside the human suffering that happens due to the boot of the CCP on the necks of the Chinese citizens—and in particular the Uyghur population—in order to make big bucks off of a huge and captive market is disgusting. It’s even worse when you realize these same companies are using similar tactics of silencing opposition and dissent to influence policies in America under the guise of free enterprise. Note that they never attempt to advance many of the policies they proclaim to be so madly in favor of in China.
Over the years, the CCP has become more and more interested in making sure electronic mentions and documentation of the Tiananmen Square massacre are kept from the people of China. This year, they put all the search engines on notice that they would be paying attention to what escaped from the digital Berlin Walls our search engines construct around China. Of course, everyone played ball.
But Bing went one better.
Microsoft’s failed attempt to monopolize search engines as they have so many other things in the computing world, Bing went to extra measures to ensure no searchers would find any images of the Tiananmen Square massacre. They turned off the ability to search for Tank Man around the world. Not just China, but around the world. Once the absence was noticed, Microsoft blamed the problem on “human error,” a “mistake,” and went on about their business of trying to figure out how to become a monopoly in all but name.
But the bucks coming in from China are big. Enormous, even. And if companies can be motivated by China’s dollars to cover up the crimes of the CCP in China, who’s to say their influence can’t extend to other parts of the world? What happens when the day comes that Alphabet is threatened with expulsion from the internet in China? Are they going to sit by idly and lose billions of dollars or are they going to ask the CCP what they have to do to make sure the cash keeps flowing into their coffers.
And if the CCP’s response is to order them to remove material it finds objectionable from the entire world’s view, will they do it?
Until last week I didn’t think they would.