Did China Censor a Photo of Two Women Athletes Embracing?

Gold medalist Lin Yuwei, left, hugs compatriot Wu Yanni after their women’s 100-meter hurdles final at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China on Sunday, October 1, 2023. (Vincent Thian/AP Photo)

A widely shared photograph of two Chinese track athletes sharing an embrace after a race has been scrubbed from Chinese social media, reportedly because of an inadvertent reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

After completing the women’s 100-meter hurdles final on Sunday, October 1 at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, the capital city of China’s eastern Zhejiang province, teammates Lin Yuwei and Wu Yanni came together in a congratulatory hug. Lin had just won gold in the race with a time of 12.74 seconds. Wu had finished second, a mere 0.03 seconds behind Lin. However, shortly after the race, she was disqualified for a previous false start, which resulted in India’s Jyothi Yarraji taking home silver, according to the race results.

After the event, which coincidentally took place on China’s National Day, users on China’s microblogging site Weibo, quickly pointed out that a photograph of Lin and Wu that featured their lane numbers — six and four — was mysteriously no longer displaying in their posts.

The numbers six and four are a common allusion to the Tiananmen Square crackdown that occurred on June 4, 1989 and the state massacre of thousands of pro-democracy student protestors, according to recent estimates.

While other photos from the multi-sport event remained, grey squares strangely replaced the image of the two teammates hugging after the race in what appears to be tactical censorship by the Chinese social media platform, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International. In its 2022 report on the country, Amnesty noted “increasingly pervasive online censorship” in China.

In users’ Weibo posts, grey squares strangely replaced the image of the two teammates hugging after the race. (screenshot Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via @whyyoutouzhele on X.)

Historically, the Chinese government has not only downplayed the death toll and mischaracterized the unarmed protesters at Tiananmen Square as violent “rioters,” but also banned any public discussion or commemoration of the incident in mainland China. References to the event are routinely erased from the Internet.

While the photo appears to have been removed from the social media site, some news reports that included the image with the athletes’ lane numbers are still up.

In recent years, the censorship of the history of the Tiananmen Square massacre has extended to Hong Kong as a result of the government’s passing of a new national security law in 2020. Since the law went into effect, the Chinese government has removed pro-democracy monuments and banned Hong Kongers’ candlelight vigil held each year on June 4 in remembrance of the event.

This past June, Zeng Yuxuan, a law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was also arrested for attempting to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square event with a massive banner of a recently removed pro-democracy monument. In September, Hong Kong authorities sentenced Zeng to six months in prison for attempting “to commit one or more acts with seditious intent,” according to documents shared with Hyperallergic from the West Kowloon Court.

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