Message from the Chinese Market

Forget Occupy Wall Street. In Shanghai, the stock market itself seems to be fighting the system. The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2346.98 on Monday, and the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points that same day. Take a closer look at that those numbers. They mark – the first one written backwards — the 23rd ...

Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages
Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages
Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages

Forget Occupy Wall Street. In Shanghai, the stock market itself seems to be fighting the system. The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2346.98 on Monday, and the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points that same day. Take a closer look at that those numbers. They mark - the first one written backwards -- the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloody suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square. Because of this uncanny and very likely manipulated numerology, searches for "Shanghai Composite" were blocked by Sina Weibo, China's twitter-like micro-blogging service.

Like a seasonal cold it just can't kick, every year on and around the anniversary of June 4, something happens in China. In preparation for the date, the Chinese government marshals its censors to prevent online discussion of the event. The square itself, usually lively, falls quieter, hemmed by security officers and plainclothes policemen.  Prominent dissidents are guarded, and urged to stay off the streets.

In 1995 a dissident launched a hunger strike; in 2004 AIDS activist laid out a plan for a candlelight vigil before he was arrested. Other years saw other forms of protest. Bloggers try to find new and innovative ways to discuss the event; the term May 35th was popular for awhile, less so when it became too obvious.

Forget Occupy Wall Street. In Shanghai, the stock market itself seems to be fighting the system. The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2346.98 on Monday, and the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points that same day. Take a closer look at that those numbers. They mark – the first one written backwards — the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloody suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square. Because of this uncanny and very likely manipulated numerology, searches for "Shanghai Composite" were blocked by Sina Weibo, China’s twitter-like micro-blogging service.

Like a seasonal cold it just can’t kick, every year on and around the anniversary of June 4, something happens in China. In preparation for the date, the Chinese government marshals its censors to prevent online discussion of the event. The square itself, usually lively, falls quieter, hemmed by security officers and plainclothes policemen.  Prominent dissidents are guarded, and urged to stay off the streets.

In 1995 a dissident launched a hunger strike; in 2004 AIDS activist laid out a plan for a candlelight vigil before he was arrested. Other years saw other forms of protest. Bloggers try to find new and innovative ways to discuss the event; the term May 35th was popular for awhile, less so when it became too obvious.

The Dui-Hua foundation, a San Francisco-based humanitarian organization, estimates that less than a dozen protestors from June 4th remain in prison; the oldest is likely 73-year old Jiang Yaqun, convicted of the now defunct crime "counter-revolutionary sabotage." Almost all of those imprisoned in the aftermath of Tiananmen were released long ago, and still the event rankles. This year in late May the father of a Tiananmen Square victim hung himself after failing to find justice. Protests occurred in three provinces across China, according to the South China Morning Post. "We went there to vent our anger against the autocratic regime," the Post quotes a 52-year old woman named Fan Yanqiong as saying. "I’m neither a relative of those killed, nor do I have any direct connection with the June 4 crackdown…But I simply can’t help bursting into tears whenever I see pictures or read articles about the suppression of the movement over the years." The protest apparently lasted for two hours, disbanded peacefully, and featured the mobilization of what the Post optimistically refers to as "more than a dozen activists."

The bizarre numbers from the Shanghai stock market is an ideal form of protest (if that is what they were; no one has claimed responsibility yet). Subtle, but eerie, and consequential: a clear signal to investors that China’s stock market can fall prey to non-market forces. And to a government that’s often seen as an oppressive force watching over China, it’s a sign that people with other opinions are there, watching back.

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

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