Chinese civilisation has a history of over 9,000 years where good authoritative governments have turned corrupt only for the civilian masses to topple them in a repeated cycle of both internal and external strength and weaknesses.
Mao Zedong established Communist China in 1949 with a motto of “fairness and equity for all of the Chinese population”. Mao Zedong launched the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” in 1956 as part of an encouragement of “positive criticism” of its policies, which exposed a level of criticisms that the Government could not tolerate. The silencing of the opposition as a result of closed government attitudes would be a repeated as the protester voice would not reappear in the headlines until the late 1980s. China’s “reconstruction” phase began under Deng Xiaoping with key reforms of modernisation of agriculture, industry, defence and technology, with democracy as the fifth reform desired by the Chinese people.
A portrait of Mao Zedong stands outside tents being used by pro-democracy demonstrators who are camping in Tiananmen Square.
Soon after the passing of Hu Yaobang, a reformer and popular figure in Chinese politics, many students and citizens began gathering around China, especially in Beijing calling for freedom of speech and a free press. Tensions and events were soon compounded with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1989 May visit to Beijing to resume Sino-Soviet relations after nearly three decades of estrangement, escalated the tensions between the demonstrators and the Chinese government as the students were denied a meeting with the Soviet leader.
Li-Peng enacted martial law after calls for the dispersion of Tiananmen Square failed leading for a lower key welcome for Gorbachev at the airport which embarrassed the Government in foreign media. Conservative Zhao-Ziyang was purged for showing “support” through a sympathetic stance towards the students. Li-Peng said that “at the bottom they want to overthrow our state and overthrow our Party”. The demonstrators erected a statue named the Goddess of Democracy facing Mao Zedong’s portrait as the Chinese military clashed with street demonstrators on June 3 as barricades in Beijing City were breached with reports of gunfire.
By 3am the Chinese military had quietly assembled and cordoned off Tiananmen as final negotiations with officials failed to reach a feasible settlement on June 4, 1989. Suddenly for 15 minutes at 4am, total darkness fell upon the Square all lights were turned off allowing tanks and soldiers to “invade” the protesters’. Warning shots quickly turned into direct shootings with many protesters shot point blank along with being run down by tanks. The total death toll remains a mystery to this day however it is believed that at least 1000 people were killed. In the subsequent days, attempts to oppose government forces such as the “tank-man” stance were met with harsh and forceful retaliation from the authorities whom detained many students along with protest leaders. The government was eager to change the subject of the incident describing it as a crackdown on “thugs and ruffians” with heroic soldiers cleaning up the damage.
Local demonstrations were also quickly extinguished by the Chinese government in early June and many of the student activists and protesters whom had not fled overseas were subsequently detained.
An iconic image of the 20th century, but no one knows the man’s identity. Photographed on June 5 near Tiananmen Square
Twenty five years on from the June 4 Incident/Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, much has been said internationally about the events of that fateful days. However least has been spoken in the country were such event took place.
To this day the June 4 Incident/Tiananmen Square Massacre remains a censored topic in mainland China and on the Chinese internet. Around the world immediately after the events had unfolded on global media everywhere except within mainland China, international organisations and other governments distanced themselves from the Chinese regime. Protests around the world especially in Hong Kong, which was a British colony in Southern China deplored the mass killings and condemned the Chinese leadership especially Li-Peng over the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
It was 25 years ago today that the People’s Liberation Army rolled into Tiananmen Square to end a student movement that had briefly raised hopes of democratic reform in the world’s most populous nation. Candlelight vigil Hong Kong in memorial of the victims of the Tianenmen Square massacre .
However with the passage of time and the inclusion of China to the world stage, the Chinese government has largely been able to avoid questions into the June 4 Incident with much focus being on its economic development and international relations in the twenty-first century.
A new generation of mainland Chinese youth and students are growing up largely oblivious to the true happenings in Tiananmen Square in 1989. From demonstrations involving over 1 million Hong Kong demonstrators in 1989 to about 3,500 in 2014 the number of demonstrators may have decreased but within much of Hong Kong, China’s only “free” outpost, a yearly candlelight vigil continues to be held. Organisations such as Tiananmen Mothers, Hong Kong’s Alliance and others around the world have continued to call on the Chinese government to rectify their verdict regarding June 4, 1989.
We can never forget and we must educate future generations of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Whether it was an anti-government riot or a peaceful student demonstration or a combination of both, the mass loss of life must be overlooked. The significance of the June 4 Incident/Tiananmen Square Massacre is a reality that the Chinese government must acknowledge if it seeks to truly modernise. Everybody in China and around the world must be made aware not only of the killings that took place but rather that peaceful protest is a fundamental aspect of our human society that should never be silenced.