20 years ago today we saw one of the most horrible acts a modern government can perform. On the night and morning spanning June 3rd and 4th 1989 thousands of protesters [mostly students] filled Tiananmen Square to protest the current government. They wanted a democratic system, they wanted to clean up the government, and they wanted a better way of life. What they received was violence and one of the worst acts of human rights suppression in the 20th Century.
The Chinese Government responded by sending tanks and armed soldiers into the Square.
The events of that terrible day began back earlier after the death of the ousted General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Hu Yaobang. The first protests started around April 15th and were enough for the new Government to enact Martial Law on the 20th of May 1989.
Even the enactment of Martial Law was not enough to quell the outrage that the people felt. The protests continued unabated and grew in size and strength.
Finally a decision was made on June 3rd to forcibly clear Tiananmen Square. Tanks and Troops were mobilized from the People’s Liberation Army and sent in with orders to clear the square. This action was actively opposed by the people as they constructed roadblocks to slow the troops. These roadblocks resulted in the first casualties of the day as minor skirmishes broke out as the military moved into the city.
Once the PLA entered the Square the slaughter had begun in earnest. The Chinese military moved in and began to open fire when the students and people refused to leave. Anyone in the square was a target as active protesters, bystanders; anyone in the area was gunned down. During the evening the killing continued as the protestors would form new lines only to be mowed down again and again. Despite the horrific events we saw acts of amazing bravery as the wounded were picked up and carried off by others through the hail of gunfire. The image of the “tank man” comes to mind as a lone young man stands defiantly in front of a column of tanks; refusing to move he stands resolute in the face of the overwhelming power in front of him.
But it was not just the students and protesters that showed bravery that night many in the People’s Liberation Army refused to fire on the unarmed civilians. As a result of their inaction they were court-martialed some were imprisoned and some were executed.
The death toll numbered in the thousands in the wake of the event and with the first airing of the news a stunned world watched in silence and anger.
These events are imprinted on the minds of all of us, it is something we show and teach our children about. In China this is not the case, even today with the burgeoning capitalistic system and the largest internet usage in the world the Chinese government wants to keep all information about Tiananmen Square from the people. The level of information suppression is so great that if you ask many young Chinese people about Tiananmen they will not be able to answer. The image of “Tank Man” imprinted on our minds is an unknown image to them. Over the past week many sites that would be carrying stories or might have information about Tiananmen have been blocked. Even sites such as Microsoft’s Live.com, hotmail, and the new search engine Bing are cut off. Internally many Chinese blogging and file sharing sites are not online due to “Maintenance”. China has a national firewall in place designed to prevent access to any sites the government does not want their people to see. But with things like the TOR network [The Onion Router] and other proxy systems leaks and holes are forming in the wall of ignorance and suppression put in place.
The information is out there and slowly the youth of China are finding out about those events of 20 years ago. Despite the length of time the events of Tiananmen Square will not be easily forgotten or suppressed.