Tank cartoon erased before Tiananmen anniversary

Twenty-one years after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China’s censors are still working to purge public discourse about the tragic events of June 4, 1989. But some Chinese Web users clearly have a healthy appetite for such a debate and are willing to circumvent the government censors. 

A cartoon that alludes to Friday’s anniversary of the crackdown on student-led protests around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square has been circulating on overseas Web sites after it was deleted from the Chinese Internet, according to international news reports.

The Guangzhou-based Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily)—a state-owned but assertive news outlet—published the image of a boy drawing a soldier and a row of tanks on a blackboard as one of a series of cartoons marking International Children’s Day on June 1. It appeared in print as well as online, according to the BBC, but was later removed from the news outlet’s Web site.

The BBC’s Chinese-language service highlights why the cartoon drew the censors’ attention, reproducing it alongside the memorable “tank man” photograph from the crackdown in which a protester confronts government troops. A torch—like the one held by the Goddess of Democracy statue that protesters erected in Tiananmen Square—appears alongside the tanks on the child’s blackboard. The blackboard has the headline, “School Newspaper.”

Some details about the cartoon remain obscure, such as the date on the blackboard, May 1985. But the cartoon, credited to Xiang Ma, appears to be a clear reference to Tiananmen, an event so taboo that journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year prison term simply for e-mailing to overseas sources the government’s propaganda department instructions on coverage of the anniversary. After Shi sent the directive to overseas Web sites in 2004, the government classified the propaganda instructions a state secret.