Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4th is the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the crackdown by the Chinese government on pro-democracy demonstrators who had gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The pro-democracy protests were led by students, intellectuals and labor activists in the People’s Republic of China from the middle of April to June 4th, 1989. Demonstrations occurred throughout the country but the focus was on Tiananmen Square.

The movement included many who were inspired by the liberalization process undertaken in the name of glasnost in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev. They believed China needed to reform its political system. The movement also included labor activists who were concerned about economic policies that had begun to cause inflation and unemployment.

The protests initially were sparked by the death of former Secretary General Hu Yaobang who had called for reform and had resigned from the position of Secretary General of the Community Party. The movement gathered momentum and as many as 100,000 gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest the government. On the 4th of June, orders were given to take back control and soldiers and tanks entered Beijing to confront the demonstrators. Estimates of those killed range from a low of 200 to upwards of 5000. Arrests and improsonment of activists continued until the government was satisfied the movement had been crushed.

News of the events that occurred was censored in China and many Chinese throughout the country still do not know what happened that day although tourists have gathered at the site in memory of the event. There are calls to acknowledge what happened and to move forward with political reforms

This is from Reuters:
Tiananmen Square was quiet on Monday and China's media was silent on the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that took place there 18 years ago to the day, but rights groups said it would not be forgotten.

People's Liberation Army troops and tanks crushed the student-led demonstrations in the historic Beijing square on June 4, 1989, killing hundreds, possibly thousands.

"I want to tell those who claim that Tiananmen 'belongs to another era' that, behind the high, barbed-wire-ringed walls of the Chinese prisons, Tiananmen prisoners are still suffering," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in an e-mailed statement, quoting an unnamed former prisoner of conscience.

Then Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang was toppled for opposing the crackdown and the government labeled the protests "counter-revolutionary", or subversive, a judgment it has resisted calls to overturn.

Despite the pressing need for activists to remember the events, the silence within China on the period means many have little knowledge of the Tiananmen movement.

One vendor surnamed Zhang, hawking copies of Mao's Little Red Book, at first said he had no idea of the sensitive anniversary, only recalling after some prompting.

"I know what you mean," he said finally. "But I come here every day and there's nothing like that now."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said another woman, 26, visiting from the southern city of Xiamen with her husband and toddler.

The only hint of the date in China's tightly controlled media as a piece on Saturday in the China Youth Daily commending the heroic police who ensure public order and safety on the square.

There were some signs of easing, amid the tight controls.

Ding Zilin, who leads the pressure group Tiananmen Mothers, was allowed for the first time to lay flowers where her son was shot and hold a brief memorial ceremony, said the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands were expected to turn out for an evening candle-lit vigil, as they do each year.

The Tiananmen issue shot back into public attention in the former British colony last month after pro-Beijing politician Ma Lik said the crackdown "was not a massacre", prompting a sharp rebuke from dissidents.

Exiled activist Wu'er Kaixi wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Ma's comments and the reaction to them showed that 1989 "can still arouse powerful emotions".

"For me, these reactions underscore the fact that, no matter how vital China has become to (the) world economy and how much it has changed with the times, the Tiananmen knot cannot be unraveled either by ignoring the truth, playing with semantics or denying it happened," he wrote.

Key figures have been silenced at home or forced into exile abroad since 1989, but voices for reform have mutated into a crusade involving a new generation of civil rights campaigners.
(The photograph above is by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press.)

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