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29 Years Later, China Still Does Not Want To Speak About The Tiananmen Square Massacre
A painted reproduction of the iconic ‘Tank Man’ photograph from the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Painting by Michael Mandiberg via Flickr

Today (June 4, 2018) is the 29th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, one of the most gruesome crimes to have been committed by the state, in world history. After three decades of the incident, the Chinese government is unapologetic as they vehemently continue to suppress dissidents ahead of the anniversary. China is following their routine of banning journalists, internet censorship and ‘disappearance’ of people vocal about the incident.

Tiananmen Square Massacre

Tiananmen Square Massacre stands as an irrevocable incident of state brutality to have happened under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Tiananmen Square, the public square in front of the Tiananmen Gate is the historic site where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949. In 1989, after the death of Hu Yaobang, the CCP’s general secretary who was forced to step down by Deng Xiaoping, thousands of university students began to gather in Tiananmen Square to mourn his death.

This gathering of up to 100,000 university students, soon took shape of a pro-democracy protest, demanding a number of things from the government, including freedom of the press, freedom to protest and transparency in government affairs. The Communist Party under Deng Xiaoping and Premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 20 to quell the protests.

Suggestions by the liberals within the party, under General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, to open a dialogue with the students were ignored. He made his final public appearance on May 19, pleading the humungous crowd to leave the square. For refusing to endorse the imposing of martial law, he was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

The martial law saw 30 divisions of the Chinese Army being mobilized into Beijing.

250,000 troops were mobilized into the Chinese capital on June 2. Under the instructions of Deng Xiaoping, thousands of soldiers entered Beijing in plainclothes. They were asked to converge at the square on June 4 to ‘clear’ the square. The standing instructions to them were to stop anyone who tried to stop the ‘advance of the troops,’ to act in ‘self-defence’ and use ‘any means’ to ‘clear impediments.’

The massacre that followed to ‘clear impediments’ resulted in a death toll that never got confirmed. Reports state numbers from a few hundred to over 10,000.

State Suppression of History

While the world mourns and condemns one of the biggest violations of democracy, the Chinese government still hangs on to their version that no one was ever murdered in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hong Kong is the only territory on Chinese soil that still manages to commemorate the lives lost on the square. The victims and survivors of the protest have been subjected to ruthless censorship and state violence as a part of the determined efforts of the state to erase the massacre from the pages of history. Any event commemorating the anniversary is immediately thwarted by the state.

Epoch Times reported that in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) on May 31, Bao Tong, former secretary of the deceased reformist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, said that officials from the local state security bureau in Beijing had visited him. He said that the officials had instructed him not to accept any interviews on the event of the June 4 anniversary. If he refused to comply, he would be taken on a ‘trip’ out of town, he was warned. These ‘trips’ have come to mean the disappearances of people prior to sensitive, politically charged periods in China.

Officials also hinted that Tong’s phone was tapped. Last year, around the anniversary, Tong was placed under house arrest and the year before that he was taken on a ‘trip’ by the government.

Zhang Xianling, a co-founder of Tiananmen Mothers, a group of family members of victims killed at Tiananmen, is also reported to have faced similar intimidation techniques by the government. On May 28, officials showed up at her residence. Xianling told Epoch Times that it had become a custom and that they had shown up on 21st, 22nd, 24th, or 25th of May in the previous years. She said that she was under surveillance and was followed by security agents wherever she went.

Xu Yonghai, who recalled seeing the army tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square 29 years ago, has been put under house arrest. He too, like others, knew the routine and said that they would continue with their surveillance till June 7 or 8.

ABC news reported about the government’s efforts, taking the case of artist Guo Jian, who was a participant of the pro-democracy movement of ’89. Jian was unable to get a passport for more than three years. In 1992, he managed to go to Australia and established himself as a professional artist.

On June 1, 2014, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the massacre, Public Security agents visited Guo’s home in Beijing and detained him. They had taken issue with his installation piece The Square, in which he covered a model of Tiananmen Square with pork mince. He was detained for 15 days and deported to Australia afterwards, ABC reported.

Guo Jian’s ‘The Square’ (Picture: Screenshot from CNN)

In planning her book, ‘The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited,’ journalist Louisa Lim asked 100 students at four Beijing university campuses if they recognized the iconic photo of a man staring down a tank taken in the square on June 5, 1989. Only 15 students could identify where the picture was from. Some did not even know it was taken in China.

Ming, who was born in 1990 told ABC news that he had never heard about Tiananmen Square massacre until he was at university. It is not mentioned in Chinese state media, and it is not taught in schools. It is also a taboo topic even within some Chinese families, including Ming’s.

Almost 30 years later, small groups in China are still struggling to keep the memory of a massacre alive through international media.

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