One of China’s top bloggers has gone silent after livestreaming footage of a cake apparently shaped like a tank just before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, prompting debate over the highly sensitive event among tens of millions of young fans.
Discussion of the crackdown on 4 June 1989, when China set troops and tanks on peaceful protesters, is all but forbidden on the mainland.
Li Jiaqi, a household name in China whose shows regularly draw millions of viewers, had his broadcast abruptly cut on Friday when he appeared to present an ice-cream cake with chocolate decorations that looked like a tank, hours before the anniversary began.
He has posted nothing since that show, and some search results for his name were being censored. He failed to appear for a scheduled show on Sunday.
Beijing has gone to exhaustive lengths to erase the bloody Tiananmen crackdown from collective memory, omitting it from history textbooks and censoring online discussion.
The social media platform Weibo on Monday hosted raucous debates about why the show was interrupted, with hashtags reaching more than 100m views.
Many users speculated about whether Li had been permanently banned from livestreaming, and whether he had known about the symbolic date.
Li, who was born in 1992 and made his name for the quickfire sale of lipsticks, appeals widely to young, mostly female fans. Many said they had learned about the 1989 crackdown for the first time after searching for possible reasons for his disappearance.
One Weibo user reassured anxious fans asking what had happened that the star had “just touched upon a sensitive topic”.
The “tank man” photo – showing a lone man standing in front of tanks sent to quash dissent in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 – is so heavily censored in China that many younger Chinese are not aware of its existence or significance. “Lots of people don’t know the story behind this cake,” wrote one user.
Another said the incident had prompted many young people to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around strict censorship rules to research the crackdown.
Others speculated that Li Jiaqi himself was also probably too young to understand the cake’s significance. “He doesn’t know; he was never taught it at school,” wrote one user. “Now it’s come to this.”
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