The Heritage of Tiananmen
If China is the Middle Kingdom, the centre of the world, then Tiananmen Square is its heart. And even if the government of China does whatever possible to remove its memory, Tiananmen, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, will remain forever tied to the massacres of 15 years ago. The government itself has not forgotten and, like each year, special police forces are ready to counter initiatives by students and political activists on the occasion of this anniversary. Universities are under surveillance and new restrictions were placed a few weeks ago on the use of Tiananmen Square.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the purpose of these new regulations are to maintain "effective and stable order in the area" and to reinforce "tight control in anticipation of any emergency". "Any activity that compromises social order, public safety and the environment of Tiananmen Square will be prohibited and persecuted", again according to this official news agency.
In recent years, this central square, this heart of China, has witnessed the hopelessness of people without work, people whose homes have been demolished, and persecuted members of Falun Gong who, in their despair, have put their life at risk with desperate gestures of protest and self-immolation. Above all, these new regulations serve to prevent any kind of protest on the 15th anniversary of the repression of the democratic movement in 1989.
In the night between June 3rd and 4th, armoured tanks of the People's Liberation Army fired on the group of some thousands of students, killing at least hundreds. The small group that had gathered around the Hero's Monument, in the exact centre of the square, was what remained of millions of people who had come from the countryside and the factories to call for the end of corruption in the Party and for a start to democracy.
In the same night and in the following days, a manhunt was carried out in schools, homes and on the streets. The result: death for many, imprisonment and lagers for thousands, escape over the border for only a few.
Within a few months of this massacre in China, the Berlin Wall fell with hardly a victim. The people of China paid for everyone: not one ruler in Eastern Europe dared to massacre the crowds, as instead happened in Beijing. The leaders of Berlin, Bucharest, Warsaw and Moscow feared the scandal and international condemnation that marked China for years.
Now that the Middle Kingdom has become an economic giant feared and adored from east to west, one often hears from politicians: "Tiananmen? It's time to turn a new leaf".
The first to try turning this new leaf have been the leaders of China. The rapid push for economic reforms was set into motion right after Tiananmen. Deng Xiaoping, with his proclamation that "to be rich is glorious", attempted to use hunger for wealth and consumerism as an "opium of the people" of China. Many times in the following years he himself, followed by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, explained that well-being had arrived "thanks" to the work of the Party that had put an immediate halt to the social revolt of the "counter-revolutionaries". The massacre was the "lesser evil" to the "enormous good" that followed. Many, above all young university students and professors, accepted this suggestion and, since then, much less is being said on campus about politics and democratic reform. They thank the Party that allows them to become rich and accept the limits of expression placed on their life.
Others, lacking any power to bring about change, live in near desperation, in apathy, or in anarchy. A few - very few - take part in democratic movements that, though non-violent in nature, are targeted by police and arrested. Last April, the democratic party put out a letter citing 16 of its members who are in prison with terms of up to 20 years for having sought freedom of expression and association. In March, an activist, Hu Jia, was arrested for having asked the government to recognize the error committed by the massacres. Even the Association of the Mothers of Tiananmen, lead by Ding Zilin, is appealing the verdict of "counter revolutionary" that fell upon their children who were killed by the tanks. And each year, without fail, they are subjected to agonizing controls: cut telephone lines, house arrest, surveillance, isolation.
Even Zhao Ziyang, Prime Minister in 1989, who was ousted for having been against the massacre, has been under house arrest for 15 years. He and his predecessor, Hu Yaobang, wanted to open China to the market-place and to democracy.
The Chinese government continues to preach that economic development is possible only through social stability and thus without political reform. But to guarantee social stability, it imprisons those who are seeking something more than material well-being. The point is that, without political reform, even economic development will go bad: corruption which existed at the time of Tiananmen and has only worsened since then corrodes all levels of government and the party, and increases the discontent of hundreds of million of people. These include the masses of peasants for whom there is no well-being, given that they earn from 4 to 10 times less than those in cities. And there are at least 120 million migrants who, despite being the lowly labourers who are building the luxurious quarters of the cities, live in misery and abandonment. According to some sociologists of the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, if the government does not respond to the needs of the destitute and does not allow them to express themselves - if the government does not curb corruption and does not undertake political reform a social clash more violent than Tiananmen is in store for China.
There is also a final element to the heritage of Tiananmen: after the massacres and imprisonment, many dissidents discovered the Christian faith. And in forgiving their persecutors as in the case of the labour leader Han Dongfan they are working for ways of justice and reform that are not based just on ideology or the strength to oppose, but on a new image of man, the rights of which are loved and defended by God himself.