Today is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and China wil commemorate the day in the usual fashion - ignoring it. Me as a German I find it incomprehensible how a country can refuse to face up to its own past. Any mentioning of the incident is forbidden in China, Tianamen or 六四 (fourth of June) has become a taboo issue. This campaign by the ruling party to erase the collective memory of a country of its past is the real tragedy behind the Tiananmen crackdown.
China is quick to accuse Japan for not acknowledging its WWII past but China has never really faced up to the big three tragedies since WWII: the great famine in the fifties, the cultural revolution and the Tiananmen crackdown.
Unfortunately given China’s influence and power fewer and fewer foreign leaders and business leader dare to speak out against China which is really sad.
Here is a funny anecdote: Between the cencors and the internet users in China there is a constant cat and mouse game. 六四 (64, in Chinese the shorted expression for June 4th) had of course been listed as search string on Baidu a long time ago and will produce no hit. In order to evade the censors internet users then referred to the date as May 35th. Now, that worked for a while but eventually got listed as well.
Maybe they will soon ban the number 64 alltogether.
Uncortunately China is becoming ever more aggressive and their reach seems to have no limits. The other day the Dalai Lama visited Norway’s capital Oslo to mark the anniversary of his Nobel Prize awarded to him in that very city. Because of fear of retaliation from the Chinese, no government representative dared to meet him, in fact they would not even let him into the parliament building.
@Friedemann: “China is quick to accuse Japan for not acknowledging its WWII past”
What’s worse is that they actually lie to their citizens about the trillions in Japanese Yen paid to China since 1979 in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA) which was used to build the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the Beijing Capital Airport Terminal Area, the Beijing Subway system, and numerous other developments throughout the country.
No one in China is aware of this and will angrily deny it when it’s pointed out. That’s how the Chinese government can get the support of it’s people in it’s grudge against Japan… by keeping their citizens completely ignorant of all this and convincing them that Japan has never even offered an apology or acknowledgement when they have in fact on several occasions. China just hasn’t “accepted” the apologies. Oh but that ODA sure was gleefully accepted… I mean never offered!
There are views which are credible which assert that the Tianamen Square Massacre was largely trumped up by the western media as a way to discredit China. Gregory Clark, former member of the Australian diplomatic corp in Japan and China:
@Friedemann, I have quite a few friends, amongst long standing immigrants as well as recent arrivals. A family moved into a house two over from us. I went over to say hello to the people who had moved in, and saw that they were Chinese. I started speaking English and got the usual apologetic “don’t speak English” and then I started speaking Chinese much to their surprise.
There was a large demonstration in Hong Kong to remember Tiananmen. A rival pro-Beijing rally attracted very few.
I think that the reverse would happen here. People don’t feel threatened by PRC suppression of freedom here, as they do in Hong Kong. Rather the local ethnic Chinese organizations are eager to please the local consulate. Recent immigrants are afraid to speak out because of possible pressure on their families back home.
On the other hand local Chinese ethnic activists are always keen to demand more and more apologies from Federal and provincial politicians about restrictions on Chinese immigration 100 years ago. Vancouver has gone from 5% Chinese to 40% Chinese in 30 years, largely without incident.
This would be unthinkable in China, i.e. if a city like Tianjin all of a sudden saw a similar influx of immigrants from India. However, the ethnic activists know that they can continue to play the “Canadians are racists and need to apologize” card in order to push their agenda, and politicians just cave in. I support a group of recent immigrants who oppose this kind of behaviour and think that Chinese should adopt Canadian values, support Canada’s interests not just the interests of the Chinese community, and stop complaining. They are in the minority. The leader of this group has regular communication from his “handler” from the Security Services in his home town in China.
Dooo, I have never considered Tiananmen to rank amongst the great bloody tragedies of the 20th century. Compared to the millions killed in China for being “bourgeois” in the early 1950’, or the tens of millions who died in the Great Leap Forward folly, or the millions who died in the Cultural Revolution, it was minor indeed.
It has, however, great symbolic value for those Chinese who had hoped for a more liberal and democratic China. What we have today is a bourgeois society with more inequality than in the 1950’s, and yet no freedom for civic institutions, press, or opposition parties to challenge the corruption and arbitrariness of the Party. Economic growth in China today is not to the credit of the Communist Party, but because they changed economic policy away from the Communist model.
In my view, and the view of the Tiananman generation immigrants I know here, China would be a far better society if they moved away from the totalitarian model of government as well.
Clark likes to be a little anti-mainstream, which is always a useful thing, but he need not be taken as the gospel either.
My friend Huang Hebian, leader of the local “Canadian values” group, has contributed Chinese lessons to LingQ in the past. I will ask him his view and also ask him to create a few lessons for our library on the subject.
Here is an example of his work, a little satire on China where he dresses up as a Red Guard.
GOOGLE & YAHOO in China filter the results of searches for politically sensitive terms. Certain content was removed from the results of this search such as ‘Falun Gong’, ‘Tibet Independence’ and ‘June 4’ (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), so many Chinese don’t know about the Tiananmen incident. Also, they don’t know how many people died in Cultural Revolution. it seems hard to believe lots of Chinese still think Maozedong was a hero.
I spoke with my friend Huang Hebian. According to him, Chinese official numbers say that 300 people died at Tiananmen, including 15 soldiers. He says that there is a group of Beijing mothers of those killed and according to these people the numbers are 200 just for Beijingers. Huang feels that number is greater if we include the students from outside Beijing, but doesn’t know how many.
The important thing for him is the vast number of troops and tanks that were present to suppress the students, and the fact that the army fired at defenceless students, regardless of how many actually were killed. He said he would try to get a few lessons on this into our Chinese library.
The Chinese leadership could have done their part of shedding light on the events by thoroughly investigating the incident but they never did. In fact there has never been an official investigation nor official figures of deaths and injured.
Accusing the West of inflating/exploiting what happened in 1989 in order to discredit China is rediculous. It is not the sheer number of deaths or if those people died on the square or near the square that is important in my view. It is that the system is so rotten that it deploys the army to end the democracy movement and does not allow to even mention publicly what happened 25 years later.
The mothers of the Tiananmen victims is a courageous group of people and they have been harassed by the Chinese authorities since the event in 1989.
dooo: “There are views which are credible which assert that the Tianamen Square Massacre was largely trumped up by the western media as a way to discredit China.”
I wouldn’t go as far as that, but the media did give us a slightly distorted view of what happened. Over the years, I always thought that what happened that night was that the military entered the square and started shooting at the students. Some tanks even ran over them.
But the truth is that the military opened fire at the people on their way to the square while they were encountering resistance. Those who died consisted of ordinary people, not just students. The military then surrounded the square and there was a stand-off with the students for a few hours. In the early morning, the students made a decision to leave the square and they did it peacefully.
There was an incident, reported from various sources, that some tanks chased after the students when they were outside the square:
“Just past 6:00 am on June 4, as a convoy of students who had vacated the Square were walking westward in the bicycle lane along Chang’an Avenue back to campus, three tanks pursued them from the Square, firing tear gas and one drove through the crowd, killing 11 students, injuring scores.”
(1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre - Wikipedia)
During the few days after the incident, the military was reported shooting at people trying to reenter the square.
So when the Chinese government claimed that “no one died inside Tiananmen Square”, they were technically correct. They all died outside the square.
In Clark’s article, the singer/leader Hou Dejian claimed that:
“Some people said that two hundred died in the Square and others claimed that two thousand died. There were also stories of tanks running over students who were trying to leave. I have to say that I did not see any of that. I don’t know where those people did. I myself was in the Square until six-thirty in the morning.”
He was also accurate, because he was in the square and did not witness what happened outside.
This article takes a milder view about the distortion of the event from the media:
For those who wants to know what happened that night in details, Wikipedia has a good write-up along with original sources:
For those who have 3 hours to spend, this documentary (in Chinese) is very comprehensive about the event: