National Amnesia Day

Access Archive

Announcements for Access members:

  • Please join us at 10 a.m. New York time (10 p.m. Beijing time) on Tuesday, June 5, for an interactive Q&A on the SupChina Access Slack channel with Fergus Ryan, a cyber analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), who has just written a report on Weibo diplomacy and censorship in China.

  • Joanna Chiu, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse, will join us next week on Tuesday, June 12, at 9:30 a.m. New York time for our next Q&A.

  • Have requests for whom we should invite on the channel, or questions to submit in advance for either Fergus or Joanna? Just let us know! You can chat with us on the Slack channel, contact me at, or reach the whole editorial team at

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief, and team

1. National Amnesia Day

Today is June 4, what wags on Twitter are calling “National Amnesia Day,” the anniversary memorialized in bad pinyin by the Simpsons cartoon as the day when nothing happened at Tiananmen Square (season 16, episode 12).

In my opinion, the best history of the events of 1989 is found in the film Gate of Heavenly Peace, produced by Richard Gordon, Carma Hinton, and Geremie Barmé. You can watch the whole thing for free on YouTube. Here are a few other things to read and look at that are worth your time:

  • Yesterday, Hu Xijin 胡锡进, editor of the nationalistic tabloid Global Times and a man who knows all about whining, tweeted: “tmr is 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen incident. Except for commentaries out of obligation or courtesy, there is few mention of it on twitter. What wasn’t achieved through a movement that year will be even more impossible to be realized by holding whiny commemorations today.” There are, of course, fewer than “few mention” of the anniversary in mainland Chinese media, but he’s wrong about Twitter: Just search for the hashtag #六四 (liùsì — June 4).

  • Hong Kong University journalism professor Yuen Chan tweeted: “Wow. Footage of low-key Cui Jian concert in Guangzhou just before June 4th. Played 1989 classics including Nothing to My Name and A Piece of Red Cloth. Told audience ‘2018, some things shoulda changed but still haven’t.’”

  • Wall Street Journal correspondent Josh Chin tweeted: “I profiled Chinese dinner-organizing activist Zhang Kun. I recently learned he’s scheduled to stand trial on Wednesday on charges of ‘picking quarrels’… What set him on this path: An accidental encounter with Carma Hinton’s Tiananmen documentary ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’ while surfing Japanese porn sites at an internet bar in Xuzhou.” You can read his story marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown here (paywall).

  • “China ties led to ‘MacGyver’ on massacre” was the headline in the Los Angeles Times of a 1989 story about how an executive producer’s experience traveling in China led to an episode of the popular 1980s TV show all about June 4. You can see a fan-made trailer for the MacGyver episode here.

  • “Organizers said 115,000 people showed up for this year’s Tiananmen vigil” in Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post, although police cited lower numbers.

  • The former top Chinese official in Hong Kong suggested that those who chant the slogan “end one-party dictatorship,” which has been a feature of the Hong Kong Tiananmen vigils every year, “should be barred from running for office,” reports Bloomberg (paywall).

  • “Can a society which has not…come to terms with its own past go on to have a successful future, or do the sins of the past somehow…come back to haunt it and reexpress themselves in some mutant form?” This is a question that the seasoned historian and scholar of China, Orville Schell, is now writing a book on and which he spoke about on a recent Sinica Podcast.  

  • “A Maoist education, and Tiananmen remembered” is an essay by Geremie Barmé about radio and TV broadcasts in China from the Cultural Revolution until 1989.

  • Photos: Hong Kong Free Press has published a gallery of “unseen shots from Tiananmen 1989,” and Getty Images also has an excellent collection of photos from the spring of 1989 in Beijing.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. U.S.-China trade dispute in deadlock

“The attitude of the Chinese side remains consistent… Our set pace [of opening the economy] will not change.”

So declared a Chinese statement following U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s visit to Beijing this weekend, signaling that although the talks had been, in Ross’s words, “friendly and frank,” they had not achieved any breakthroughs.

  • U.S. trade grievances against China boil down to three main issues: limited market access, theft of intellectual property, and “unfair” industrial policy, as we noted back in March.

  • But this delegation was “essentially an export promotion team,” the New York Times writes (paywall), as the U.S. Trade Representative was “conspicuously absent.” A White House readout confirms that the talks had a focus on achieving “fair” trade as measured by the metric of trade that Trump almost exclusively cares about: the trade deficit.

  • Even a fix for the bilateral trade deficit now seems up in the air. The Associated Press reports that the Chinese side put its foot down and insisted that if any of the planned $50 billion in U.S. tariffs go into effect, all trade concession deals are off.

  • “Ross hoped to secure a deal for increased Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans, beef, poultry, natural gas and crude oil, among other agricultural and energy products,” the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall), but the Chinese balked at the idea of multiyear purchasing contracts, and many of these are the same products that would be hit with retaliatory tariffs from China in the event of a trade war escalation.

  • The $50 billion in U.S. tariffs will be implemented “shortly” after the full list of products is announced on June 15.

  • But just as the tariffs look increasingly likely to go through, the U.S. is looking especially isolated. Trump “undercut” Ross in his negotiations, Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations writes, by simultaneously slapping steel and aluminum tariffs on “almost every one of the U.S.’s top allies.”

  • “The resulting outcry…gave Beijing cover to do nothing,” Economy explains, adding, “With the U.S. economy under siege from all sides, Beijing now rightly calculates that the pressure on the Trump administration to rethink its trade strategy will be intense and Washington, ultimately, will blink. Or, if it doesn’t, Beijing has a whole new set of friends with whom to ally against the United States.”

  • Read more about U.S. trade isolation in the Wall Street Journal — G-7 members condemn U.S. trade actions (paywall) — and in the Associated Press via SCMP — After alienating allies with tariffs, Donald Trump is entering China trade talks ‘unprotected and alone.’

Other news relevant to U.S.-China trade negotiations:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

3. Hunan school removes homophobic banner

A vocational school in Xiangtan, Hunan Province, made headlines last week when a photo of an anti-gay slogan on campus went viral online. The school has now agreed to take down the banner, and pledged to make the school gay-friendly after speaking with LGBTQ rights activists in Hunan.

After the photo of the banner circulated, the Changsha branch of PFLAG China, a nonprofit organization that supports the country’s LGBTQ community, sent an advocacy group to the school on June 1. The group — six mothers of gay children and five volunteers — arrived at the school in the hopes of “spreading LGBT knowledge” and “convincing school officials to remove the slogan,” according to a WeChat post (in Chinese) by the organization.

When questioned by the activists, the vice principal explained that the message was put up by the head of the school’s propaganda department, who “misinterpreted instructions from higher-ups” and made a mistake “without much consideration.” The school official said that he immediately ordered the removal of the slogan, and promised not to discriminate against gay students.

While on campus, the activists posed for a photo carrying a banner that read, “Accept homosexuality, create an equal and harmonious campus.”

—Jiayun Feng

4. Three things

—Jeremy Goldkorn


  • Exploiting Chinese students in New Zealand
    Staff told to take English tests for overseas students – agents / Radio New Zealand
    Some education agents in New Zealand arrange their own staff to take English tests for Chinese students, who struggle when they start classes and often fail. Then “a lot of education agents will help them to switch schools and make more money.”

  • Jet planes made in China
    HNA Group to buy 300 jetliners from state-owned manufacturer / Caixin (paywall)
    “HNA Group announced it plans to buy 200 C919 large passenger jetliners and 100 smaller ARJ21 regional passenger jetliners from China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd., (COMAC), a state-owned company that aspires to challenge the dominance of Boeing Co. and Airbus SE.”

  • Jet planes made in France and the U.S.
    China Lessor CALC talks with Airbus, Boeing to buy 200 jets / Bloomberg
    “The company is looking at single-aisle and wide-body jets from the planemakers, with the bigger aircraft slated to account for 20 percent of the order.”

  • Bumpy ride for on-demand bike company Ofo
    Ofo co-founder denies job cuts and departure of COO / TechNode
    “Ofo co-founder Yu Xin has denied allegations that it is laying off 50% of its employees and its chief operating officer (COO) is leaving the company… The denial comes in the wake of reports claiming that the company is short of money and it would be closing its international business following the departure of COO Zhang Yanqi.”

  • Deutsche Bank continues Chinese stock investment
    Deutsche Bank says never mind trade tensions, buy China stocks / Bloomberg
    “The MSCI China Index is one of the most domestically geared gauges globally, with revenue exposure to the U.S. just 2 percent — meaning stocks in the benchmark shouldn’t bear the brunt of trade tensions, according to Deutsche Bank.”

  • Bytedance vs. Tencent  
    Toutiao continues public argument, accuses Tencent of “stigmitization” / TechNode
    “The company alleges that starting from March 2018 Tencent blocked content from Toutiao and Bytedance-owned short video platform Douyin on WeChat and QQ. It said this was done under the guise of supervision, security, and software bugs.”
    Tencent and Bytedance take ongoing feud to court / Sixth Tone
    “On grounds of unfair competition, Tencent, which operates messaging apps WeChat and QQ, announced on Friday that it was suing Bytedance and one of its affiliates for 1 yuan ($0.16) and a public apology.”

  • Blockchain in China
    China state TV: Blockchain is ’10 times more valuable than the internet’ / CoinDesk
    “In a segment named ‘Dialogue,’ aired Sunday night through the station’s Finance Channel, CCTV host Chen Weihong featured an hour-long discussion that was for the first time dedicated to educating its wide audience-base on the concept, potential and risks of blockchain technology.”

  • “Gentleman’s agreement” faces a test
    China bondholders set to learn how much a promise is worth / Bloomberg
    “China’s fast-growing dollar-bond market is facing a fresh test as investors that counted on a type of credit-protection pledge seldom seen elsewhere find out just what those promises actually mean.”

  • China in Africa
    China scales back investment in Ethiopia / FT (paywall)
    “Business people, diplomats and bankers said Chinese entities, which have loaned more than $13bn between 2006 and 2015 for everything from roads and railways to industrial parks, were now taking a ‘more cautious approach’ to Ethiopia. ‘The Chinese have said they’ve reached their limit,’ one diplomat in Addis Ababa said. ‘We’re way overextended here,’ they told us openly.”

  • Traditional medicine and mistreatment of animals
    China’s bear bile industry persists despite growing awareness of the cruelty involved / Washington Post
    “China is the center of the industry and of demand for bear bile products…. Bear farming remains legal in China, and here at least 10,000 bears are still kept in cages on nearly 70 farms.”




Viral on Weibo: Crayfish detaches own claw to escape boiling hotpot

A crayfish just won the admiration of the internet after it cut off its own claw to escape a boiling hotpot in China. Then it was taken home by a diner as a pet.


An Africa storytelling night in Beijing

“In African culture, storytelling played a really important role, and it continues to do so,” says Zahra Baitie, lead organizer of Africa Week in Beijing, a program of events promoting Chinese understanding of African culture. Night of African Storytelling, on May 22, was one of the highlights.

Friday Song: ‘Flowers of Freedom’ and its political implications

The phrase “自由花” (zìyóu huā), or “flowers of freedom,” has appeared in several seminal moments in Chinese history. It is therefore fitting that the phrase — and song by the same name written by Thomas Chow — is used to commemorate the Tiananmen Square protests of June 4, 1989, which has its 29th anniversary this Monday.

Another fire in Daxing District, Beijing

Around 7 p.m. on June 1, a fire broke out in Xinjian Village 新建村 in Daxing District 大兴区, Beijing, about 300 meters south of Xingzhi Road 行知路, with large billows of black smoke visible from miles away. Daxing, on the outskirts of Beijing, is where a fire in an apartment building on November 18 left at least 19 dead.


Paint it red

Two workers paint the outer walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing. They may need a bigger ladder. Photo taken by Naomi Xu Elegant.

Jia Guo