Today is the 25th anniversary of the government massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in China’s Tiananmen Square. The massacre was the culmination of a prolonged campaign by the communist Chinese government to crackdown on dissent.
After the death of the liberal reformer Hu Yaobang, pro-democracy student activists occupied the square to mourn his death and protest against the increasingly oppressive communist regime.
After the students had occupied the square for about seven weeks, the government sent in soldiers and tanks to clear them out and enforce the martial which had been declared amid the protests.
Protesters who chose to defy them were met with assault rifles and gunpowder. The event also produced this now famous clip of a man attempting to stop a whole battalion of tanks by himself:
The crackdown was bloody. There were hundreds of injuries and many deaths, though the government has never released official figures on the loss of life from the massacre. In fact, the government has been doing its best to totally remove the event from the collective memory of Chinese citizens since it happened.
Even now, 25 years later, China has enacted strict laws forbidding the commemoration of the massacre. Since April, 50 people, including writers, activists, artists, lawyers, journalists, filmmakers and relatives of those killed in 1989, have been, “detained, disappeared or summoned for police questioning” for discussing or planning to observe the 25th anniversary of the massacre today.
Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), says that this year’s censorship is the worst it has ever been:
“The leaders are more nervous because they feel less secure due to increasing social conflict and widespread discontent. They fear any display of dissent might spark protests against the government.”
Despite the risks, however, many of the victims’ relatives are still choosing to speak out about the tragedy. Liu Meihua lost her 21-year-old son in the massacre. She had this to say in an interview with the Telegraph:
“My only wish is for the government to reevaluate the June 4 incident. I have felt sad every single day since my son’s departure… I doubt I will live to see that day because of my age. No government body has ever offered us an explanation or a solution or taken responsibility for the issue. Young people today know little about June 4, since it is rarely read about or talked about, and the older people are dying out.”
As the relatives of those lost grow older, the bullying tactics of the Chinese government seem to have less and less of an effect. Sharon Hom is executive director of the organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), which just released a video with rare footage of statements being made by the families of five of the massacre victims. She puts it this way:
“The surveillance, the threats, the monitoring, the phones, all of that: they have kind of reached a plateau. Fear is no longer effective to keep them silent because they are saying: ’What more can you do to us?’ Now they are going to speak out.”
Read more from The Telegraph here.
BONUS: The incredible story of the Tank Man, including footage from the military crackdown: