Tiananmen Square crackdown

WeChat users unable to transfer money in amounts related to Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 1:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 9:21pm

Users of China's most-popular real-time messaging service WeChat are allegedly being blocked from transferring money in amounts related to the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

According to multiple media sources, and confirmed by a South China Morning Post reporter, it is currently not possible to transfer sums of money containing the numbers "64" or "89" using the Chinese version of WeChat, also known as Weixin.

When sensitive amounts are used, WeChat's "red envelope" money transfer system, which allows users to publicly send each other gifts, returns a message saying "Irregular transaction. Try again later." Other amounts were transferred without issue. Private money transfers were not affected. 

A Tencent spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Organisations which monitor the Chinese internet for censorship report that, as in previous years, all references to the 26th anniversary of the crackdown are being deleted.

Digital news outlet Quartz reported that this has even led to seemingly innocuous messages being deleted, including one tweet about crude futures falling to US$64.88 a barrel, or news of a 64-year-old American woman returning money she found on the street.

Chinese internet users have long used virtual private networks (VPNs) and other tools that safeguard their anonymity, including the popular Tor program, to bypass internet restrictions.

This has become much more difficult since the start of this year as censors have tightened their controls, blocking many commonly used VPNs and all Google services, including Gmail and Google Search.

At the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia in Shanghai last month, many foreign attendees complained of the lack of free and open access to the internet.

The irony was heightened by the fact a senior executive from blocked service Twitter was a keynote speaker at the event, which was supported by the Shanghai government.

US State Department-funded anti-censorship tool Lantern recently released an Android app which allows users in China and other countries where internet access is restricted to use Twitter freely.

Speaking to the Post, Lantern chief executive Adam Fisk said the app was far harder to block than traditional VPNs as its trust network-based peer-to-peer architecture required censors to know multiple private IP addresses to block each individual user.

Additional reporting by George Chen