Type the word Leica on a social media network in China, and you won’t be able to share the post, due to a controversial video that has now been removed. The promotional video put together by an ad agency based in Brazil celebrated journalists (of course, using Leica cameras) but was widely criticized in the country for using footage from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Following the publication of the video, users on China’s social media network Weibo were banned from using the word “Leica.”
The Tiananmen Square protests are a forbidden topic in China, where searches for things like “persecution” and “democracy movements” are censored from showing up online. During the 1989 protests, the Chinese military is said to have killed or arrested thousands of protestors. Weibo says that the word Leica is banned because of violation for the laws and regulations on the social platform.
While the protest wasn’t named in the video, footage from that location with the date 1989 on the screen were part of the video montage showing different historical events. Another clip in the video showed a photographer being chased by Chinese soldiers. That photojournalist then shot the event from a hotel window instead, showing a reflection in the camera lens of the historic and well-recognized image of the protests, “Tank Man” by Jeff Widener.
Leica says the video was never officially sanctioned by the company, despite the company logo at the end. The camera company is denying official connection to the video, which has now been removed from YouTube. “Leica Camera AG must, therefore, distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn,” a Leica spokesperson told the South China Morning Post.
The video brought criticism from users on Weibo, with one asking the company, “do you even deserve to collaborate with our patriotic Huawei?” Others called the move “stupid” and “insane” and suggested the move could risk the company’s relationship with the China-based Huawei. Huawei smartphones currently use Leica lenses exclusively.
Others applauded the ad — Zhou Fengsuo, a leader in the 1989 protests, told the South China Morning Post that the video was a game changer. (Fengsuo is currently on the country’s most-wanted list).
The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests is on June 4.