msnbc.com news services
updated 6/6/2007 10:06:10 AM ET 2007-06-06T14:06:10

A young clerk with no knowledge of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown allowed a tribute to victims slip into the classified ads page of a newspaper in southwest China, a Hong Kong daily reported on Wednesday.

Officials at the Chengdu Evening News refused to answer questions about an advertisement it ran saluting the mothers of those killed in a bloody military crackdown on democracy activists at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The one-line ad on Monday night read: “Paying tribute to the strong mothers of June 4 victims.” It appeared on page 14 of the paper on Monday, the 18th anniversary of the violent end to a seven-week pro-democracy movement.

An investigation was launched by Chinese authorities to find out how the advertisement slipped its way past censors.

A woman in the advertising department of the newspaper said she was not accepting interviews and was not authorized to release any information. Employees in other departments said they were “unclear” about the ad and hung up.

Phones at the Chengdu government, police and local Communist Party office rang unanswered Wednesday.

China’s government calls the student-led protest that was crushed on June 4, 1989, a counterrevolutionary riot and has not fully disclosed what happened. News footage showed soldiers and tanks rolling into Beijing to suppress the protests. Hundreds, if not thousands, died in the military crackdown.

The ad noted the date of the crackdown as “64” instead of using Chinese characters for the two numbers, as it is normally written.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, citing two sources with connections to the Chengdu Evening News, said a young woman who works for an advertising company that receives content for classifieds took down the information but did not know the significance of June 4.

A man gave the advertisement to the clerk, who had recently graduated and worked for an advertising company responsible for receiving content for the ads section, the Post reported.

“She called the man back two days later to check what June 4 meant and the man said it was (a date on which) a mining disaster took place,” one source told the Hong Kong paper.

“This highlights (the fact) that the government needs to face up to history,” the paper quoted the source as saying.

Discussion of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement is still taboo in China outside of the semiautonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, meaning many of China’s younger generation are ignorant of the event. Chinese television news and major newspapers do not mention the anniversary.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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