Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the repressed Tiananmen Square occupation, a pro-democracy demonstration beginning the night of June 3, 1989 and stretching into the early morning of June 4 in which Chinese troops used lethal force to end the 7 week-long occupation.
After the death of Mao Zedong and a period devoid of leadership due to a rift between those loyal to Maoist doctrine, under the Gang of Four, and the reformist forces under Deng Xiaoping, the reformist leader Deng brought China into a new era. In the late 190s, Deng embraced elements of free market and socialism, resulting in a mix economy based on market-based reforms. Because of the rapid change of economic reform implemented under Deng’s ‘4 Modernizations’ and ‘9 Cardinal Points’, combined with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, cries for social and political reform rang out in China. Mass gatherings and protests took place in and around Tiananmen Square. The movement lasted for about 7 weeks, ending after the declaration of martial law on May 20th. Military convoys entered Beijing on the evening of June 3-4. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) used live fire to clear their path of protesters. The exact number of civilian deaths is not known, but the majority of estimated range from several hundreds to thousands. The results of this massacre was international condemnation and Western imposed sanctions and arms embargoes. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the protests strengthened the power of the orthodox Communist hardliners. To this day, China is still world renown for its human rights violations and hard-line suppression, the most recent phenomena being the house arrest of blind activist Chen Guangcheng. Chen is one of a number of activists who have been imprisoned or are currently detained for campaigning for human rights or religious freedom in Communist-led China, illustrating the repressive nature of the regime. So saying, the government has taken special measures to further censor the acknowledgement of the protests. In China, there was no mention of the date in Monday’s newspapers. China has arrested activists and placed others under increased surveillance to stop them from marking the anniversary. Searches on social media sites have also been restricted to try to prevent any reference to the 1989 events. The list of blocked words is extensive, including words, names and numbers that relate to the incident, ranging from “never forget” to “tank” to “-ism”.
“This Democracy Movement deserves universal approval. We ask that its requests be treated appropriately. We do not desire revenge but we want to completely reveal the truth. We are in favor of tolerance, but against forgetfulness. People who are forgetful have no future.” – Chen Guangcheng, Chinese activist
In memory of that day, more than 100,000 people are expected to gather in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park Monday night for a candelight vigil to remember the lives lost. Among the heroes and memories of 1989 is Ya Weiling, a 73-year-old father of a student who was shot and killed in the crackdown. Ya and his wife Zhang Zhenxia spent 20 years campaigning for the government to make amends for those killed in the 1989 demonstration. In a note written before his death, Ya complained of the government’s refusal to hear his grievances about his son’s death and said he would therefore fight with his death. Ya was later found hanged in a garage below his home. Another response to the anniversary came from the Tiananmen Mothers group. The group called for the end of communist rule, and micro-bloggers have encouraged sympathizers to wear all black and present themselves in public placed. In Hong Kong, a temporary Tiananmen Massacre museum is also open for the week commemorating the courage of those involved and condemning the actions taken by the government. Among the noteworthy remarks regarding the anniversary, the US State Department issued a remark condemned by the Chinese. Despite previous attempts at detente considering the heightened tensions concerning activist Chen, the US statement targeted the Chinese government and encouraged the government to release all prisoners still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstration, as well as calling for a full release of all information dealing with the events of 1989.
“We renew our call for China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.” – US State Department statement
In retrospect, China remains today one of the most prominent countries holding a large history of human rights violations and continues to do so. Along with rigid support for President al-Assad in Syria, targeted aggression at neighboring Tibet, rising conflict over possession of the Spratly Islands with the Philippines, and an emerging democracy in neighbor Myanmar, Chinese international relations are very volatile and turbulent. The government is particularly sensitive this year in the lead up to the once-in-a-decade leadership transition. In Autumn, power will transfer to a new government of politicians who will decide the future direction for China. Current President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are both due to step down.