A censored Weibo post from the UK embassy in China has gone viral, leading its 1.8 million followers to believe that Queen Elizabeth had died.
The post featured a picture of a candle flame being extinguished and was meant to mark the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
But because references to the massacre are censored on Chinese social media, users only saw an image of a candle without any message.
Weibo users began using a hashtag which, translated, reads “the Queen died of illness,” the ABC reports.
The hashtag referring to Queen Elizabeth’s “death” was viewed more than 47 million times.
Christina Scott, the UK’s deputy head of mission in China, said the original post referencing Tiananmen Square was censored after only 20 minutes online.
Some began to joke that the Queen’s death was linked to her receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine while others wished her “a good journey.”
Even the Chinese Wikipedia entry on Queen Elizabeth was changed to state that she had died.
Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said jokes about the Queen’s death were the “heavy price” for posting a “provocative” tweet mentioning Tiananmen Square.
‘So much control’
Former journalist Liu Yiming told the ABC that the hashtag could have been spread by dissenters who knew about Tiananmen Square and wanted to raise awareness of why the UK embassy’s tweet was censored.
“Many Chinese netizens’ sarcastic comments and photos have gone viral, in a push to get more people to talk about an important matter,” he said.
“Chinese authorities now have so much control over speech.
“Many things are not allowed to be commented on directly, but rather discussed more subtly.”
Another possibility is that Chinese nationalists took the opportunity to attack the British embassy and mock the royal family.
“We can’t rule out that some so-called patriots took the opportunity to mock the British embassy,” Lui said.
In a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989, troops armed with assault rifles fired at demonstrators as tanks rolled across the square.
University students, bystanders, and soldiers were killed.
The official death toll is 300, but other estimates have suggested the figure is much higher, with as many as 2,000 or more dead.
In the wake of the massacre, the Chinese government has attempted to suppress information about the deadly crackdown, which is referred to by authorities simply as “the June 4 incident.”