Friday, June 04, 2004

On June 4, 1989, I was a clueless sixteen-year-old finishing Grade 11. I vaguely remember seeing an image over and over on the news of a lone man standing in the path of a row of tanks in Beijing. I didn't understand it, and I certainly didn't know the extent of the violence that took place in and around Tiananmen Square that day. But now I do, and it was horrifying. Please take time today to remember the massacre of hundreds of unarmed people that occurred fifteen years ago, or to educate yourself a little bit about it. You'll feel sick reading about it, but that's because it was and continues to be sickening. Keep reading anyway.

"China police on alert on Tiananmen anniversary":

Late on Thursday, a lone man in his 50s staged a short-lived protest, kneeling to pray at the foot of the Monument to the People's Heroes at the center of the plaza. He was swiftly taken away by police...
"SARS doctor joins 'disappeared' on Tiananmen anniversary":
But at Beijing University few people were aware of today's anniversary. "Most young students don't know about Tiananmen because the media never raises the topic," a postgraduate said....

In the Xidan district of Beijing, where activists once put up posters on the "Democracy Wall", the land has been cleared for a Starbucks, several banks and a shopping centre.

Asked about the significance of June 4, one shopper guessed it might be Father's Day.
"Tiananmen bloodshed remembered":
The annual candlelit vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park will be the only event on Chinese soil to mark the 1989 massacre.... Protests had already begun on Thursday when students at Hong Kong University repainted a slogan on campus: "The flame of democracy will never be extinguished. The souls of the dead will live on."
"Provoking the tiger":
The conventional wisdom in Beijing (and too often among complacent Western diplomats and business people) is that most ordinary Chinese do not care what happened and that most dissidents have become entrepreneurs or research fellows abroad. Chinese officials parrot the formula that the crackdown was justified in dealing with a "political turmoil" that would otherwise have undermined the nation's "stability" and harmed the whole world.

If the Beijing Massacre is really so irrelevant today, why have the authorities reacted so nervously to the June 3/4 anniversary?
"Tiananmen Square, 15 years later":
Most days, the Avenue of Eternal Peace is jammed solid all the way to Tiananmen Square, but now and again it comes back to me: the rumbling tanks, the bodies on the overpass, the window-panes riddled with bullet-holes, the pall of smoke over the city....

Although 4 June and democracy remains the key issue in Hong Kong, in Beijing one could be forgiven for thinking it never happened. The government demanded a collective amnesia and seem to have achieved it. On the eve of the anniversary, I spent an evening with a senior Chinese journalist talking about press freedom; the issue never came up.
"15 years later, exiled Tiananmen protesters nurture hope for a new system":
The government defends the crackdown and continued one-party rule as a key to China's economic success. It rejects pleas to reverse its verdict that the protests were a counterrevolutionary riot.

The protests were "political turmoil no matter what you call it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said this week. He defended the crackdown as playing "a very good role in stabilizing the situation, which enabled China to develop its economy and make contributions to the peace and development of the world."
"China: 15 years after Tiananmen, calls for justice continue and the arrests go on" (Amnesty International press release):
There has been no open inquiry into the deaths and arrests surrounding the demonstrations. Amnesty International has records of more than 50 people it believes are still imprisoned for their part in the protests. This number is a fraction of the true figure, which has never been released by the authorities.

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