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Market’s Echo of Tiananmen Date Sets Off Censors

By KEITH BRADSHER, HONG KONG (NY Times): The Shanghai Stock Exchange produced an unlikely, almost ghostly result on the 23rd anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square, an odd echo of a tragedy that China’s leaders have tried desperately to erase from their country’s consciousness.The index fell 64.89 points on Monday, a figure that looks like June 4, 1989. In yet another unusual development, the index opened on Monday at 2346.98 — a figure that looks like the date of the crackdown written backward, followed by the 23rd anniversary.

Chinese censors, showing characteristic heavy-handedness, especially on anniversaries of Tiananmen Square, began blocking searches for “stock market,” “Shanghai stock” and “Shanghai stock market” and started deleting large numbers of microblog postings about the numerical fluke.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index is calculated by adding up the market capitalizations of hundreds of different stocks and then converting it into an index with a value of December 19, 1990. Richard Kershaw, the managing director for Asia forensic technology at FTI Consulting, a global financial investigations company, said that it would be almost impossible for anyone to coordinate the buying and selling of so many stocks so as to produce a specific result.

But hackers have targeted the computer systems at other stock exchanges in the past and Mr. Kershaw said that it was at least possible that this might have occurred in China. He predicted that the government would investigate, but added that, “You can bet we’ll never hear the results.”

The fall in the Shanghai market was statistically plausible, as it worked out to a drop of 2.73 percent; the Shenzhen stock market, the Shanghai market’s southern rival, fell 2.84 percent on Monday.

Chinese culture puts a strong, sometimes superstitious emphasis on numbers and dates. The Beijing Olympics started at 8:08 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2008, a time and date chosen for the many “eights” — considered an auspicious number.

Even 23 years later, the use of tanks and gunfire to disperse unarmed students and other in Tiananmen Square protesters remains a point of considerable acrimony in China and around the world. Security measures are tightened in China each year for the anniversary while dissidents and former Chinese officials periodically give their versions of what happened.

The suspension of a populist leader, Bo Xilai, from the Politburo this spring and a subsequent series of reports of factional infighting and military maneuvers to prevent any attempt at a coup has underlined this year how tightly held power still is in China.

Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the United States on Monday after the State Department issued a statement on Sunday calling for China to free political prisoners still in jail nearly a quarter century after the crackdown.

“We encourage the Chinese government to release all those still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families,” Mark C. Toner, a deputy State Department spokesman, said in the statement.

In addition to people jailed since 1989, the Chinese government detained an unknown number of dissidents or put them under house arrest in the last few days, part of an annual procedure ahead of the controversial anniversary.

The local government of Tongzhou, an eastern district of Beijing, took the unusual step of publishing on its Web site a description of its precautions for the anniversary: “From May 31 to June 4, wartime systems and protective measures should be in effect, and security volunteers, wearing red armbands and organized by the collective action of neighborhoods, should be on duty and patrolling.”

The posting was deleted by early afternoon on Monday, possibly because its blunt language had been reported in the morning by the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper.

People began converging late Monday on a downtown park in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Interest in the candlelight vigils here has waxed and waned over the years, often as a barometer of dissatisfaction in Hong Kong with the territory’s local government and with the Beijing authorities. Attendance eroded through the 1990s to 2002, jumped with the pro-democracy demonstrations here in 2003 and 2004, then eroded again for several years.

The vigils have picked up steam again since 2009 as inequalities of wealth, youth unemployment and other economic issues have come to the fore in Hong Kong and as retired Chinese officials who were in office in the months leading up to the Tiananmen Square crackdown have begun publishing their memoirs.

The memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the two years leading up to the crushing of the protests was published shortly before the 2009 vigil. A series of conversations with Chen Xitong, the mayor of Beijing in 1989 and a reputed hard-liner, were published last week, in which he expressed regret that a military assault had taken place, denied reports that he played a role in organizing that assault and said that “several hundred people died that day.”

Organizers say that the vigils drew 150,000 people each year in 2009, 2010 and 2011, matching a level not seen since 1990. Police put the turnout for these three years at 62,800, 113,000 and 77,000.

Published Date: Monday, June 4th, 2012 | 01:56 AM

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