BEIJING -- Show tunes. Confetti. A deck of cards. Rubber ducks. A pornographic video.

These are some of the props in the annual games underway in Beijing as the most sensitive day of the year approaches. Wednesday is the 25th anniversary of the day when Communist Party leaders sent the military to clear pro-democracy students from Tiananmen Square.

Every year, political activists try to commemorate the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who died in the crackdown, and the Chinese government tries to prevent them, a cat-and-mouse game as classic as "Tom and Jerry."

Except in China the mouse rarely wins.

One activist group, using the website backtotiananmen.com, is calling for people to flock to the square Wednesday. Since it is impossible to hold banners or chant slogans without risking immediate arrest, the organizers suggest that people sing "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from "Les Miserables" -- the tune from the finale in which Parisians rise up against tyranny.

"If they are too frightened to sing, they can just hum the tune," said Wen Yunchao, an activist now in New York. "And if they can't hum, they will show their support just by being there."


Advertisement

Wen's group found a unique way to publicize its movement: When a video leaked onto the Internet last month that purportedly shows a soap opera actress in a sex act, the group edited it to add in messages to show up at the square June 4. Of course, Chinese censors removed the video -- pornography is banned along with political activism in China -- but not quickly enough.

"It had already been downloaded thousands of times," Wen said.

China allows no discussion of the events of June 3-4, 1989, when soldiers accompanied by tanks and armored personnel carriers fought their way into the heart of the city, killing hundreds of protesting citizens and onlookers. The government has never issued a complete, formal accounting of the crackdown and the number of casualties involved.

Beijing's official verdict is that the student-led protests aimed to topple the ruling Communist Party and plunge China into chaos. Protest leaders said they were merely seeking greater democracy and freedom, along with an end to corruption and favoritism within the party.

Authorities regularly tighten security ahead of June 4, but this year's suppression has been notably harsher than in the past. Activists who in the past would receive no more than a warning have been taken into custody, and police have told foreign journalists they would face unspecified serious consequences for covering sensitive issues ahead of the anniversary.

There are other ways of commemorating the day short of actually demonstrating.

Most of the activists organizing such events are overseas, not surprising given that the government has shown zero tolerance for anybody so much as mentioning Tiananmen. People have been detained or placed under house arrest to prevent them from holding activities marking the anniversary.

Amnesty International said last week that dozens of people had been confined, including the Beijing-based activist Hu Jia, who threatened to hold a hunger strike to commemorate the anniversary, and the now-elderly parents of the students killed in 1989.

Also detained are people who held commemorative events in their homes.

Commemorating clearly requires creativity. Puns and euphemisms come in handy. The crackdown on the pro-democracy movement is usually referred to in China simply by the date, June 4, and the numbers 6/4 are used to convey the enormity of the tragedy in much the same way Americans refer to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as 9/11.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.