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25 Years since the Tiananmen Massacre

By Piyush Singh

June 5th will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. A pro-democracy movement which had started nearly 6 weeks back was brutally subjugated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under the orders of the Communist Party of China.

Chinese government not for the first time though, used brutal military tactics to quell the protest organised by Beijing University students for more freedom and basic human rights as enshrined in the Chinese constitution. What started out as a student revolt soon became a mass protest movement drawing peasants from the countryside to Beijing. Similar protests also started in other cities in China. The Communist Party, under the leadership of the autocratic Li Peng, vowed to use “firm and resolute measures to end the turmoil swiftly”. Martial Law was subsequently declared in and around Tiananmen Square and the protesters were given final warning to disperse or be responsible for what happens next.

On the night of June 4th under firm orders from the party leadership “to clear the square by dawn”, the army began its advance. Throughout the night scores of peaceful, unarmed protesters were killed or brutally injured. People were shouting at the foreign journalists present at the scene to take videos and pictures to show the world what is going on in China. It was a mere coincidence that foreign journalists were present in Beijing in large numbers to cover the event because it occurred simultaneously to Gorbachev’s visit to China. What happened was the most brutal oppression of peaceful protest in the world. Majority of countries from all over the world condemned the Chinese government. India, in order to not agitate China carried a very limited broadcasting of the event.

The scars of the event remain fresh in world’s memory even though Chinese citizens have no clue about it. Chinese internet search results are very strictly censored with regards to the event.  Searches like “May 35th”, “April 65th” etc are blocked. Chinese authorities have gone at great lengths to erase the memory of the protest from public view. Beijing has been attempting to expunge their collective memory through the worship of a soaring economy.

The protest also served as a wake-up call for the Chinese government. Already the Chinese market was going through huge reforms and the government after the brutal crackdown brought in further reforms to pacify the citizens. They stuck a deal with the citizens which basically were that you will have economic development but no political freedom. The sort of deal you make with the devil.

Since then China has transformed on a huge scale. Its economy is one of the largest and recently it became the world’s largest trading nation. However their citizens rue the lack of basic human rights and representative form of government. Human dignity signifies not just economic prosperity but also able to live his/her life freely, be able to voice opinions which are against the government etc. Recently in 2008, Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo came up with Charter 08 to demand political reform and an end to single party rule in China.  He suffered the same fate as all political dissidents in China suffer. One outspoken film professor, Cui Weiping, wrote, if people continue to stay silent, “June 4 will no longer be a crime committed by a small group of people, but one in which we all participated.”

Even though former President Hu Jintao and current President Xi Jinping have regularly advocated that western democratic values won’t work in China, it is essential that China follow its own Constitution which speaks about democracy, rights to its own people and constitutional supremacy.

As we near the 25th anniversary of the oppression, it is to be noted that even though China is still far away from incorporating democratic values and institutions into the society, a single misstep by the Party rulers in the long run will surely ignite a new protest. They are banking on economic growth and prosperity to bide time for themselves but it won’t last for long. China has become extra vigilant as the 25th anniversary approaches near and has been rounding off scholars and pro-democracy protesters so that they do not create any sort of disturbance on that day.  All efforts made by the Chinese government to wash-off its hands of such heinous crime should be resisted and people should slowly and steadily work to fulfill the dreams of those who died that day. Lu Xan in 1926 after witnessing a brutal protest wrote “Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood” should serve as the dictum for people who still hope for democracy in China.

Piyush Singh is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

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