Beijing supresses news and detains activists. Young people do not know what happened on 4 June when at least 2,600 students and workers were killed. Several dissidents are placed under house arrest. Police stop a meeting in Shandong. Tiananmen Mothers demand justice before they die. In Hong Kong, a pro-democracy vigil is planned; many mainlanders are expected to attend in secret.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Twenty-eight years after the massacre of students and workers in Tiananmen Square, the government continues to be silent on its responsibility, as well as gag against anyone who tries to commemorate the victims or explicitly talks about the historical truth of an event that marked a turning point in China’s history.
On the night of 3-4 June 1989, the People’s “Liberation” Army moved in with tanks to "free" the square from defenceless students and workers. The latter had occupied the site for more than a month, calling for "more democracy and less corruption" in the Communist Party, which had undertaken some economic modernisation, but had resisted political reforms (pictured 1).
Protests and sit-ins in the square began on 15 April with the funeral of Hu Yaobang, the liberal party secretary removed from office in 1987.
According to a number of international organisations (like the Red Cross and Amnesty International), on the night of 3-4 June, the army – despite being stopped several times by Beijing residents (pictured 2) – murdered its way into the square and adjacent streets, killing more than 2,600 people (pictured 3).
At least 20,000 people were arrested in the following days, ending the "dream of democracy".
The Party labelled the Tiananmen protests as a "counterrevolutionary" movement following which it launched a major programme of economic reforms, almost to wipe away the memory of the spilled blood with improved living conditions.
At the same time, it pursued a campaign to obliterate any trace of that event so that anyone born since knows nothing of what happened.
Each year, those who try to commemorate the event receive threats, are placed in isolation, have their phone lines cut, or are forcibly sent on a “holiday" to distant places.
Even this year, many human rights activists were placed under house arrest days before the anniversary, like Sakharov Prize laureate Hu Jia, Jiangsu activist Zhang Kun, and Wu Lijuan of Hubei. Equally, police warned activist Huang Simin and her husband Li Xuewen not to leave the city of Guangzhou.
According to Radio Free Asia, activists manage to hold a public meeting only in Shandong on 24 May, at the home of retired university professor Sun Wenguang.
Initially, some activists had originally planned to travel to Thousand Buddha Mountain in Jinan, but the police discovered the plan while they were en route, so they held the ceremony at Sun's home instead.
Of the all the people bent on marking the anniversary, the members of the Tiananmen Mothers' Association have shown the most resolve.
The group brings together parents who lost children to the tanks on that fateful night. They want the Party to stop describing their children as "counterrevolutionaries" and demand that they be recognised as "heroes" and "patriots" because they were acting for the good of the Chinese people.
As they have done each year since 1995, the Mothers issued a statement calling for justice. "Everyone knows very well that we don't have much time left, but still we share a common hope for our remaining years, that of justice and rehabilitation for the victims of June 4, 1989," the press release said.
The group represents 128 relatives who are getting very old. "We have already seen more than 40 of us die, and those who are left will continue, but those 40-some people will be unable to rest in peace," said Zhang Xianling, a founding member of the group.
In the Chinese-speaking world, Hong Kong is the only place to commemorate the Tiananmen victims with a great candlelit vigil in the Victoria Park (pictured 4). In recent years, several dissidents and ordinary people have come from China to attend the event, at least anonymously, lost in the crowd of tens of thousands of participants.
This year’s commemoration is likely to e more subdued because some Hong Kong student associations plan not to attend out of greater concern for Hong Kong and its freedom, as separate from the demand for democracy in China.
These so-called "localists" are viewed by Beijing as a danger because of their autonomist and even secessionist goals. Still, for many activists in mainland China, Hong Kong's commitment to democracy and the vigil remain a high point for consciousness raising.