05/26/2009, 00.00
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Tiananmen 20 years on

by Bernardo Cervellera
As of today AsiaNews will begin to publish a dossier on the 20th anniversary of the massacre of Tiananmen Square, which took place on June 4th 1989. It will include interventions from the protagonists of the democracy movement of that time and of today. They will speak of the past, but above all, they will speak of the needs and urgent issues that China faces in the present and the future.
Rome (AsiaNews) - 2009 marks 20 years since the protests and sit-in of students, workers and farmers who for over a month occupied Tiananmen Square from April – May 1989.   The non-violent movement was asking for “more democracy and less corruption” from the Communist Party that had began the process of economic modernisation, but still resisted political reform.

For weeks young people from across China held vigil in the largest square in the world, with the support of the people of Beijing, hoping for an opening in dialogue with the leadership.  On April 26, in a furious editorial published in the People’s Daily, the Party labelled their movement “counter-revolutionary”, aimed at overturning the communist system, and for this reason it had to be dissolved.   On the night between June 3rd and 4th twenty years ago, the “people’s liberation army” erupted onto the square in armoured tanks to “liberate” the square occupied by defenceless students and workers.  According to international organisations (Red Cross and Amnesty International) over 2600 people were killed that night in that square and surrounding streets.  At least 20 thousand people were arrested in the following days, putting an end to the “dream of democracy”.

Party figures that resisted the order to massacre were arrested and removed from positions of authority. Among them, Zhao Ziyang, at the time the secretary general of the Party and his collaborator Bao Tong.  Zhao lived under house arrest for the rest of his life until his death on January 17th 2005.

After spending 7 years in prison Bao, still lives under house arrest.  His telephone is under strict control.

Recently Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs were published (in English and Chinese) in a book entitled “Prisoner of the State”.   Thanks to secret recordings made in Zhao’s house and transcribed abroad, they reveal new truths about the Tiananmen massacre, regarding the responsibility of the then leader Deng Xiaoping, who, fuelled by “paranoia” feared a student revolution; regarding the responsibility of the ex-premier Li Peng, who ordered the massacre and the acquiescence of the then mayor of the capital Chen Xitong, who allowed the armoured tanks onto the square.  Both lent Deng their support with one eye on their career and rise to power.

Since then, the Party has attempted to wipe out the memory of the massacre, often justifying it as the “lesser of two evils” and the necessary price to be paid in order to guarantee the “stability” and economic progress that was soon to follow.

Each year, as June 4th draws near, silence on the massacre is the norm, dissidents are arrested and police controls augmented.  But each year, in particular parents whose sons and daughters were viciously mowed down by the army, demand the Party reveal the truth regarding those responsible for the blood bath; who gave the order and why. United in an association called “Mothers of Tiananmen” they demand that the Party change the definition of “counter-revolutionary” given to their dead children, who they say, should be called “heroes” and “patriots” instead because they were campaigning for the good of the Chinese people.

The events of June 4th were a watershed in the history of China and of the world. Free from the manipulative inventions of those in power and in order to help the young people of the entire world – and also today’s youth in China – find out what the “Massacre of Tiananmen” really was, AsiaNews introduces a series of testimonies offered by the protagonists of those days. The memory of past errors serves to ensure they are not repeated in the future. Unfortunately China seems to be dangerously heading towards an amplified repetition of that slaughter. This time the victims are peasants, students, migrant workers who in their millions have no share in the benefits of the current economic progress, eroded – as it was 20 years ago – by corrupt Party members and a lack of democracy and dialogue.

Evaluating the journey over the past 20 years, it is worthwhile to also bring to light the bond between the democratic movement and religious freedom.  In the first years after ‘89, the tug of war between the Party and dissidents all too often, never advanced beyond economic demands or issues of individual rights.  But now a culture has become increasingly widespread in China that places the person and his inalienable rights at the centre, valuing the power of the State, but not its authoritarian dictatorship. In order for this leap to have been made, the exile of some dissidents aboard has been essential, their contact with western Christian communities, or the search for religion within China itself. Figures such as Gao Zhisheng, Han Dongfang, Hu Jia have discovered in the Christian faith the basis for the absolute value of the human person, the strength for their dissidence and the defence of human rights.  This bond between civil engagement and religious freedom is one of the fruits that encourages greater hope for the present and future of China.


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