The Taiwanese government urged Communist China to “sincerely repent” for the Tiananmen Square massacre on its 30th anniversary.
Beijing has no intention of apologizing for the brutality or even acknowledging its full measure, but others around the world took steps to observe the anniversary and honor the courage of the pro-democracy demonstrators slaughtered in 1989.
“China has to sincerely repent for the June 4 incident and proactively push for democratic reforms,” the Taiwanese Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said on Monday, the day before the 30th anniversary of the crackdown.
The MAC accused Beijing of “distorting” the truth to conceal the full extent of the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square. The Taiwanese agency vowed to “continue to point to the direction of democracy for mainland China” and promised to support democratic reforms “in all manner of ways.”
The mainland Chinese government ruthlessly suppresses discussion of the Tiananmen massacre, but details keep leaking. Radio Free Asia published a sobering account from Jiang Lin, who was a reporter for an official newspaper of the Chinese army covering Tiananmen Square when the crackdown began:
[When we arrived below the Tiananmen gate], we peered through to see gunfire everywhere, and soldiers’ helmets silhouetted against the constant sound of gunfire, which never let up. At this point we were surrounded by officers of the People’s Armed Police who started attacking us indiscriminately with electric batons, the high-voltage kind.
[We went to the Peking Union Medical College Hospital to seek treatment], and a bus drove in at the same time we did. The driver was weeping and yelling that he had wounded people in the back of his bus, and shouting to the medics to hurry up. There was blood all over the floor of the emergency room. The doctor told me that my injuries were the least serious, and that all of the rest were gunshot wounds. A nurse told me that she had never seen so many gunshot wounds, and that she couldn’t take it. “Look over there,” she said, “those are all the bodies of people who were shot dead.” Later, someone called for the doctors to run out to Tiananmen Square and save people, and that so many people had died there. “What makes you think we haven’t?” the doctor replied. “Our ambulances have been out there, but they were forced to turn back in the face of gunfire.”
There was one young man in one of the ambulances who told me to keep my head held high and not to lose hope, and that we hadn’t lost. He pulled a clip of assault rifle bullets out of his pocket, saying “these are my spoils of war.” He had been hit by a bullet outside the police department buildings. When the soldiers starting raking the area with machine-gun fire, he grabbed the gun away and lifted it up so the clip fell out, and the clip fell to the ground. He said he was hit by another bullet in the shoulder as he was grabbing the gun, but he managed to pull the clip out anyway. Those people were so brave.
Jiang stressed the importance of continuing to remember and discuss Tiananmen Square and thought China’s rulers were correct to fear the anniversary each year: “This is a festering wound at the heart of the Communist Party. Once it is exposed, the Communist Party will be finished.”
AFP on Monday published a timeline of the Tiananmen atrocity, beginning with the April 15, 1989, death of reform-minded Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, whose passing left student reformers frustrated and worried that it would leave them without a voice in the halls of power.
Their fears proved well-founded, as democracy advocates were soon designated enemies of the state, their demonstrations met with increasingly severe reprisals until they occupied Tiananmen Square and the government sent tanks and troops to murder them.
The South China Morning Post mournfully acknowledged that Beijing’s unflagging efforts to erase Tiananmen Square from history have been quite successful, producing a current generation of students that knows little about the event and feels no deep connection to the student democracy activists of 30 years ago.
Many young people have embraced the paranoid nationalist line out of Beijing. Those who have not, are too terrified of their government to speak up, a terror reinforced by constant glimpses of the surveillance system used by the Communist Party to monitor its subjects every hour of their lives. The SCMP spoke to older Chinese who still feel horror and anger over Tiananmen Square, but they are afraid to make trouble for their children by handing down forbidden knowledge.
The feeling among many Chinese is that there will never be another Tiananmen moment because organized dissidents will be sniffed out and punished long before their movements could ever gain the strength of 1989.
“Your politics teacher won’t tell you, your history teacher won’t tell you, the adults won’t tell you, so there’s no way we’d know. If you ask the millennials, I guarantee you 90 percent of them don’t know,” said a young art teacher who learned about Tiananmen Square by watching a documentary during a trip to Vietnam.
Relatives of those slain in Tiananmen Square held a candlelight vigil on Monday (Tuesday in China) and laid wreaths in a public cemetery, well aware they were under constant surveillance by Chinese state security forces.
“We refuse to keep a low profile, although we have never tried to have a high profile either. We do what we need to do,” said Zhang Xianling, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers activist group, whose son was killed in Tiananmen Square at the age of 19.
Radio Free Asia noted that several activists who refuse to forget about Tiananmen Square have been rounded up and jailed or sent on “enforced vacation” to keep them from making trouble on the 30th anniversary:
Beijing-based Zhang Baocheng, who was among a group of dissidents detained in April 2013 for posting a commemorative photo of themselves ahead of that year’s massacre anniversary, has been detained and his home searched, sources said.
“They searched his home and apparently there was a firearm,” a friend of Zhang’s said. “It’s pretty serious, anyway.”
“They took away his computer and cell phone. We haven’t seen any legal document yet detailing the formal reason for his detention,” the friend said. “But the anniversary is fast approaching, so it could be [to do with that].”
And Hunan-based activist Ou Biaofeng was taken away on an enforced “vacation” by police to stop him from giving media interviews in the run-up to the anniversary, former rights activist Xie Wenfei told RFA.
“Ou Biaofeng was taken away to Kunming on vacation a few days ago,” Xie said. “His usual cell phone number has been switched off.”
“It’s to stop him from talking to international media during the run-up to June 4,” he said. “Some other people have been called in for chats [with police], so they know the score.”
For all of China’s bluster about nationalist unity and irresistible ideological strength, for all the billions it has spent on modernizing and expanding its military, for all of its belligerence toward Taiwan and its pressure to strip the last vestiges of autonomy from Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party remains scared to death of some young people it murdered 30 years ago.
Beijing will never admit to the full number of ghosts haunting Tiananmen Square, but they are a mighty host indeed, judging by the amount of effort invested in preventing Chinese citizens from thinking about them on the fourth day of every June.