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China: Lest we forget, Tiananmen Incident 21 years on

Categories: East Asia, China, Citizen Media, History, Human Rights, Politics, Protest

On the occasion of the 21st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident [1] (‘June Forth Movement’), Chinese intellectuals, ex-protest leaders, activists, bloggers, writers and ordinary citizens tell us why they refuse to turn their backs on the horrors of the incident, and, in remembering the past, bravely offer insights into how they face the future.

On 4 June 1989, the Chinese authority suppressed by force the student-led democratic movement in the Tiananmen Square of Beijing, resulting in the death of hundreds of citizens. To date, the incident remains one of the most politically sensitive and suppressed topics in China.


Ran Yunfei [3], Chengdu based writer and activist, on what everyone should do:


Remembering June Forth shouldn’t be limited to telling the truth, but also real actions. First is a thorough investigation of the list of deaths in the incident, not only limited to the Tiananmen Mothers group. Every living individual, especially those witnessing the event, has the responsibility to make the records accurate. Only on this basis can we tell the truth to the world. Second is helping the disabled victims or families of the deceased as best as you can. This is less about the amounts involved but more about the consistency of your help, so that they can feel the momentum of progress. Third is caring about and providing basic supports to people who were tortured in prisons, especially the grassroots citizens, i.e. those who were falsely accused as thugs. Our concern shouldn’t be limited to intellectuals. Forth is compiling a more accurate and complete chronicle of the event, including all kinds of materials that have emerged (books, CDs, articles, etc in all languages). This ‘Chronicle of the June Forth Incident’ would help more people understanding history in a quicker and better way.

Wang Dan [4], then-protest student leader, on why Chinese people should not forget the event, even China has developed significantly 21 years on:

第一,    虽然已经21年了,虽然中国已经发生了很大的变化,但是,我们必须看到,在中国,还有很多很多的东西没有变化。我们看到刘晓波因为言论被判重刑,请问,这与文革时期有变化吗?我们看到司法制度不能独立行使社会功能,人民有冤屈只能通过上访的方式申诉,还要受到打击迫害,这与70年代末期有什么不同?我们看到,贫富差距日益扩大,社会不满逐渐积累,这会比80年代更加进步吗?任何有良知的人,怎么可能蒙住自己的眼睛,只去看那些变化的部分,而不去看那些没有变化的部分呢?既然很多在1989年导致学生上街的问题依然没有改变,我们,凭什么忘记?!

第二,    虽然已经21年了,当时作为镇压一方的政府,有一天忘记六四吗?大批流亡在外的国人至今不能回国,只因为他们不愿意按照使馆的意愿,承认自己当年的行为是错误的,请问,政府有忘记六四吗?今天在中国,六四仍然是最敏感的词汇,不要说民间,连官方都闭口不谈,这样的敏感度,请问,政府有忘记六四吗?那些天安门母亲们,他们没有任何政治动机,如果他们申请去天安门广场,为自己死去的孩子点燃一支蜡烛,政府会同意吗?这一切,都证明了一件事,那就是,当年开枪杀人的那个政府,他们一天也没有忘记六四。我的问题是:如果,作为杀人者,都没有忘记;我们,凭什么忘记?!

Firstly, although China has changed in many ways since then, there are also many things which have not changed. We are witnessing the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo because of his opinions. How is this different from the Cultural Revolution? We are witnessing the judiciary being unable to maintain its independence. People can only resolve grievances through petitions and complaints, risking suppressions in the process. How is this different from the China of late 1970s? We are witnessing the increasing income inequality and social discontents. How is this better than the 1980s? How can anyone with conscience turn a blind eye to these problems? As the problems which drove students to the street in 1989 are still with us, on what basis can we forget the incident?
Secondly, although 21 years have passed, has the government, as the suppressor, ever forgotten the event? Many Chinese in exile cannot return to China to date, only because they refuse to admit that they have acted wrongly, a demand of Chinese embassies. Please answer me: has the government ever forgotten the event? In today’s China, ‘June Forth’ remains the most sensitive word, not only among citizens but also officials. In view of this sensitivity, please answer me: has the government ever forgotten the event? Those Tiananmen Mothers are without political motives. If they apply to go to the Tiananmen Square and light a candle – only to commemorate their fallen children – do you think the government will approve? All these prove one thing, that the government, as the killer, has not forgotten the event. My question is: if the killer has not forgotten it, on what basis can we forget it?

Tiananmen Mothers [5], a group [6] comprising the parents, relatives and friends of victims of the incident:


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has this unwritten rule: a lie will become fact when it is repeated hundreds and thousands of times, even though everyone has witnessed the truth. If everyone ‘who knows how white attracts, yet always keeps himself within black’s shade’, we all will soon be in black shades and cannot see a thing. For a long time, the CCP bans all mentions of ‘June Forth’, with the result that young people born in the 1980s and 90s refuse to believe that this massacre has ever happened. The authority thinks that by acting in this way, ‘June Forth’ will fade away and they can evade their responsibility. Yet, we published the names of 16 victims in June 1993, and the list has since then grown to 96, 155, 186, 196, and today, 203. Any single one of them is a real person, with flesh and blood. In a flash, they disappeared from people’s view; but they were real people, how can anyone erase or cover up the fact? No one can evade their responsibilities to the crime conducted 21 years ago. Now the authority has portrayed this strange ‘harmonious society’. If you still have traces of conscience, then after you bear the noises of the day, what remains must be unbounded fear! Fear which will remain for a long time!

Cui Weiping [7], a professor at the Beijing Film Academy:


Those who suppress discussions conducted in goodwill, who suppress ethnics, who suppress good deeds (e.g. like those of Tan Zuoren [8]), who deprive a race of its collective memory and hence its space for growth, do they know what they are doing? Do they know what negative consequences this will bring to our future? Have they ever thought about, for a moment, that they should bear some kind of responsibility? The most likely result is that even though they would like to assume responsibility some day, they would not have the ability to do so. By that time, who would pay the cost for this? In reality, during these 21 years, our society has suffered unbearable spiritual and ethnic losses. Countless individuals have suffered unbearable pains. Our race has suffered unbearable costs. We cannot afford more of these pains and costs.

Zhang Zuhua [9], in the Foreword of ‘My 1989’, a book of interviews with ordinary citizens witnessing the event, to be published in Hong Kong in June 2010:


Freedom and blessing will not suddenly fall from the sky. They come through sustained efforts and struggles of countless Chinese citizens. Robert Kennedy has it: ‘Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ Thousands of Chinese citizens have constructed a monument of justice in 1989, and this will forever drive people to strive for freedom and democracy!