The Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 is something the Chinese Communist Party is still trying hard to erase from the history books. It’s willing even to censor songs that refer to it, and Apple may have been its accomplice.
The company has removed a song by singer Jacky Cheung from the mainland China version of its Apple Music service, reports the Hong Kong Free Press.
The song’s lyrics refer directly to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 30th anniversary of which comes in June. “The youth are angry, heaven and earth are weeping . . . How did our land become a sea of blood? How did the path home become a path of no return?” the lyrics of Cheung’s “Ren Jian Dao” (“Path of Man”) go.
The song, composed by the late musician James Wong, was released in 1989, the same year as the massacre, when Chinese troops killed scores of pro-democracy demonstrators.
The Chinese government mandates the censorship or blocking of any content on the mainland internet that relates to the massacre, and the effort tends to ramp up ahead of big anniversaries.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that the removal of the song was “spectacularly craven.”
Spectacularly craven, even by @apple @tim_cook standards–which is saying something. Apple Music in #China removes Jacky Cheung song with reference to Tiananmen massacre https://t.co/1u6n36Oelm via @hongkongfp
— Sophie Richardson (@SophieHRW) April 9, 2019
Cheung wasn’t the only pro-democracy artist to have songs removed from the streaming service, according to the HKFP report. Last week, netizens discovered that all but one of Hong Kong singer Anthony Wong’s songs were removed from Apple Music China. The music of pro-democracy singer Denise Ho was completely removed, along with any mention of her name anywhere on the service, the Hong Kong paper reported.
At one of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy rallies in 2014, Wong and Ho performed a song, “Raise the Umbrella,” in reference to the ubiquitous umbrellas that demonstrators carried as symbols, and as shields from police pepper spray. The song quickly became a protest anthem for the movement.
It wouldn’t be the first time Apple censored content on the mainland. The emoji of the Taiwanese flag is restricted on devices on the mainland. In 2017, the company began removing apps from the Chinese App Store that allowed users to access virtual private networks that could allow them to circumvent the country’s Great Firewall. A recently launched website, AppleCensorship.com, keeps track of the hundreds of apps that have been blocked on the mainland.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.