When Did the Tiananmen Square Massacre Happen? Tune In to Jeopardy to Find Out!

A Chinese internet meme used to evade censorship finds its way onto the popular American quiz show.
jeopardy.jpgyu_miles/Twitter
Here was the "Final Jeopardy" clue for last night's episode of Jeopardy. Can you guess the answer? (Or, um, the question.) I'll wait.

If you don't know, don't feel bad -- none of the three contestants got it right, either. Of course, it's difficult to expect game show contestants, even ones especially good at trivia, to know anything about Chinese internet memes. But the fact that this clue surfaced on Jeopardy, in and of itself, is welcome proof that the remarkable ingenuity of China's web army isn't going unnoticed on this side of the Pacific.

The Democracy Report

"535" refers to May 35th which, put another way, is June 4th -- the date of 1989's Tiananmen Square massacre. The term exists because media discussion of the event in China is prohibited; in 2007, three newspaper editors even lost their jobs when they failed to censor a one-line ad praising the mothers of the victims. Internet users initially referred to the event by its un-hyphenated date, "64", but once government censors caught up to them they needed to conceal it even further -- hence the invention of "535". This sort of clever wordplay is seen all across the Chinese internet, where the list of "sensitive" subjects is long.

Alas, it appears that China's ingenious netizens will have to go back to the drawing board; according to Shanghaiist, censors have caught on to "535" and have even begun deleting the roman numeral rendering of the Tiananmen date. On the Chinese internet, no clever ruse lasts forever.

But in any event, it's remarkable to think that despite an education system that makes no mention of the controversy surrounding the massacre, a media which ignores it, and a significant chunk of the population too young to remember it, a national conversation surrounding events like the Tiananmen Square massacre continues to persist on the Internet. And little by little, the outside world has begun to take notice.



Matt Schiavenza is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is a former global-affairs writer for the International Business Times and Atlantic senior associate editor.

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