Gold medalist China's Lin Yuwei, left, hugs teammate Wu Yanni after their women's 100-meter hurdles final at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, October 1, 2023.
Hong Kong CNN  — 

China appears to have censored a photograph of two Chinese hurdlers embracing after a race because their lane numbers formed an accidental reference to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

The image captures Lin Yuwei, from lane 6, and Wu Yanni, in lane 4, hugging following the women’s 100-meter hurdles final at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.

As they stood together, stickers showing their lane numbers formed “6 4”, a pairing widely seen as a reference to June 4, 1989.

That day Chinese military tanks rolled into the capital Beijing during a bloody crackdown to clear students protesting for democracy in Tiananmen Square.

Beijing tightly controls references to the event, scrubbing all mention of it from the internet within China, and moving quickly to erase any reference to it on social media, including even seemingly innocuous moments when the numbers 6,4 and 89 appear together and are entirely unrelated to Tiananmen.

The race took place on October 1, China’s National Day, a delicate occasion when the authorities are more vigilant against any signs of dissent that may distract from celebrations.

State broadcaster CCTV originally posted the photograph on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media service, on Sunday night, but removed it from its account about an hour later, CNN has found.

A search on Weibo Thursday no longer yielded results of the same image, though scattered postings of another photograph showing the two athletes crossing a hurdle with their lane numbers on display – though in an less conspicuous manner – can still be found.

The photograph cannot be found on Baidu, China’s popular search engine, and Google services are blocked in the country.

The image can be seen in an article published Monday by state news agency Xinhua but the numbers have been cropped out of the photo.

CNN has reached out to Weibo, Baidu, CCTV and the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party for comment.

China imposes stringent censorship not just on criticism of the Communist Party but also matters it deems sensitive and incongruous with the party’s values and ideology.

The rules have in the past led to the censorship of what might appear to some to be innocuous images, such as women’s cleavage and men modeling in lingerie as a gimmick on social media to boost sales.