Whether a cosmic joke or coincidence -- or as some wags suggested, an act of God -- the Shanghai stock market index fell 64.89 points on Monday, which happened to be June 4, the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.
This darkest moment in recent Chinese history is customarily referred to as 6/4, the unembellished number conveying the same stark tragedy as9/11for Americans.
In the numerology of censorship, nothing is more sensitive. There is a ritualized cat-and-mouse game every year on this date between the censors and those who want to commemorate the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands. On the 20th anniversary, an advertisement managed to slip into a newspaper showing two groups of people -- six on one side and four on the other -- gazing philosophically toward the sky.
Nowadays, the game is largely played out on the Internet. The number 6/4 is banned by censors –- as is 5/35, an attempt to get around the bans by referring to the date as the 35th of May. Other words that were scrubbed on Monday were “candle,” “commemorate,” “massacre,” “tank” and “never forget.”
After its bizarre closing Monday, censors added “Shanghai Stock Market” and “index” to the banned list.
The 64.89 point drop wasn’t the only strange omen. The Shanghai Composite Index opened at 2346.98, which with a little creativity could be seen as a reference to June 4, 1989, 23rd anniversary.
Even people who don’t follow the markets were delighted. “I want to thank all the stock traders!” wrote one microbloggers. “Maybe God does exist? God’s will cannot be altered,’’ wrote another. Others wondered if the entire Shanghai Stock Exchange might be shut down.
The Chinese Communist Party is famously resistant to reflecting on its shortcomings. Only recently has it been possible to discuss openly the Cultural Revolution, Mao Tse-tung’s campaign of terror between 1966 and 1976, and many were shocked when Premier Wen Jiabao referred to it during a public news conference in March.
But Tiananmen Square remains verboten -- because of the brutality of the crackdown, of course, but also because of the rifts it opened in the Communist Party that remain unhealed to this day. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was purged for refusing to support military action and lived under house arrest until his death in 2005. Many student activists from the period are in exile, unable to return to China.
Last week in Hong Kong, former Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong, now 81 and suffering from cancer, released a book of interviews in which he claimed he was pressured by the party to support the crackdown. He called it "a tragedy that could have been avoided and should have been avoided."
The book has been banned in the mainland.