It has been three months since Chinese rock musician Li Zhi disappeared from public view.
First, an upcoming tour was canceled and his social media accounts were taken down. Then his music was removed from all of China’s major streaming sites — as if his career had never existed at all.Li is an outspoken artist who performs folk rock. He sang pensive ballads about social ills, and unlike most entertainers in China, dared to broach the taboo subject of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that ended in bloodshed on June 4, 1989.
“Now this square is my grave,” Li sang. “Everything is just a dream.”
China’s ruling Communist Party has pushed people like Li into the shadows as it braces for Tuesday’s 30th anniversary of the military crackdown. Hundreds, if not thousands, are estimated to have died on the night of June 3 and in the early hours of June 4.
The party’s effort to scrub any mention of the movement has been consistent through the decades since then and ramps up before major anniversaries every five years. This year, the trade war with the U.S. has added to government skittishness about instability.
“They are certainly nervous,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Under (President) Xi Jinping, no stone will be left unturned.”
Many of the actions appear aimed at eliminating any risk of individuals speaking out, however small their platforms. Bilibili, a Chinese video streaming site, announced last week that its popular real-time comments feature will be disabled until June 6 for “system upgrades.”Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group, said 13 people have either been detained or taken away from their homes in connection with the anniversary. Among them are several artists who recently embarked on a “national conscience exhibit tour” and a filmmaker who was detained after tweeting images of a liquor bottle commemorating June 4.
The bottle’s label featured a play on words using “baijiu,” China’s signature grain alcohol, and the Chinese words for 89, or “bajiu.” A court convicted four people involved in designing the bottle in April.
Foreign companies are not immune. Apple Music has removed from its Chinese streaming service a song by Hong Kong singer Jackie Cheung that references the Tiananmen crackdown. Tat Ming Pair, a Hong Kong duo, have been deleted entirely from the app. They released a song this month called “Remembering is a Crime” in memory of the protests.