Category Archives: Tiananmen massacre
Once again, it’s June 4th and another anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.
Hard to believe 24 years have passed since hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed protesters were shot in the square and with those years, so much change.
Anyone who visits China today will see cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou that are more modern than most American cities where sophisticated residents dress in the most fashionable styles, drive brand new cars and carry the most up-to-date electronic devices.
More than 300 million Chinese have risen to the middle class and there are allegedly 83 billionaires in the Chinese parliament.
While the economy has embraced quasi-capitalism with a vengeance, the politics of one party rule has remained. Twenty-four years after a brief promise of democratic reform, the leaders’ aim to squelch any mass political protest is unwavering. Even though some of the new leaders installed in November had, as young men, expressed sympathy with the short-lived student democracy movement of 1989, no one really expects any announcement of regret about the massacre or overruling of the official verdict that the protests were a counterrevolutionary rebellion that had to be crushed.
To learn more about the events of June 4, 1989, read the award winning international thriller, Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah and Joel Shlian.
Joel and I spoke at two local book clubs the other day – happily people are still reading “Rabbit in the Moon” and seem anxious to engage in discussions about China – not only about the events we wrote about in our novel (i.e. the short-lived student democracy movement that was brutally squelched at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989), but also the changes in the country since then. They were especially interested in understanding how the new leader Xi Jinping, who has expressed a commitment to more openness, is dealing with dissent.
Like Joel and me, they’d read the New York Times report about how Chinese reporters and editors working for the reform-minded Southern Weekly newspaper complained after the propaganda chief altered a front page New Year’s message. And unlike 1989 when there was no Internet to help spread news of dissent, today more and more dissenters in China are testing the limits of government censorship by going online.
Last week, because the journalists felt the intrusion of the propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, went above and beyond even current censorhip practices (Internet censors are constantly checking for key words like “Tiananmen” or “Charter ’08″, the online proclamation that China should embrace democracy which sent Liu Xiabo, winner of the 2110 Nobel Peace Prize to jail for 11 years), they published their complaints on Twitter-like microblogs called weibo.
The original New Year’s message titled “China’s dream, the dream of constitutionalism” reflected the journalists’ hope that China would become a country ruled by law and the constitution. Here’s what they had written: “Only if constitutionalism is realized, and power effectively checked, can citizens voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently.” The version altered by the propaganda chief that ultimately appeared in the paper, was titled “We are now closer to our dream than ever,” and praised the work of the ruling Communist Party, leaving out any of the original references to constitutionalism, democracy and equality.
According the the New York Times article, within 24 hours of reading the weibo posts, the Central Propaganda Department in Beijing deleted them, shut down the Southern Weekly journalists’ accounts and warned all Chinese newspaper editors and reporters not to discuss the New Year’s greeting on any public platforms.
Like 1989, this push-back from the government, only created more controversy. On January 4th, a group of prominent former Southern Weekly journalists including the director of the China Media Project based at the University of Hong Kong issued a strongly worded open letter criticizing minister Tuo Zhen’s actions, describing them as “dictatorial”, “ignorant and excessive”. The letter, which demanded that the central government fire Tuo, not punish the Southern Weekly journalists, and allow the paper’s editorial committee to resume normal operations, was later endorsed by more than 50 former journalists in a separate online letter. Chinese citizen supporters carrying posters calling for freedom of the press protested in front of the newspaper’s office complex. Celebrities in China protested via their microblogging accounts.
Now it will be interesting to see how the government reacts. The New York Times quoted Zhang Lifan, a political commentator’s weibo from Friday January 4th: “The incident will testify to the direction of political reform.”
Not surprising, word is that the new government is not happy. Despite Xi Jinping’s promise of more openness, there has been a recent stepped up policy of suppressing any public criticism of the Communist Party, particularly via social media on the Internet. The central government does not want to be told what to do by a local newspaper, but they also don’t want the situation to become another Tiananmen.
A real life drama. We’ll all be watching.
Hard to believe 23 years have gone by since the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Despite the distance of time, any official discussion of the event the Chinese government still refers to as merely the “June 4th incident” is taboo. While Hong Kong remains surprisingly open in terms of freedom to assemble and protest about that night (there are yearly candlelight vigils on the anniversary of Tiananmen), there were no demonstrations reported across Mainland China where the events of June 4th are still considered “counter-revolutionary”.
When the Shanghai Composite Index opened today at 2,246.98, several bloggers within China interpreted this as the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown when read from right to left. Their blogs were immediately shut down by censors. The Chinese have a long tradition of being superstitious- especially about numbers. There has been some speculation as to whether the fall in the index represented the work of hackers, but many believe that to be highly unlikely.
In the meantime, a spokesman for the US State Department encouraged the Chinese government to “release everyone still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the statement.
Despite its acceptance of a more Western style capitalistic approach for its economy, the Chinese government is committed to one party rule at all costs.
Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 2010 and was involved in the 1989 demonstrations is serving an 11 year sentence for his internet proclamation “Charter ’08” urging China to end its one party rule and embrace democracy.
Good news! Without Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng’s immortality elixir (Rabbit in the Moon) average life expectancy in the US has hit another high, rising above 78 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, infant mortality has hit a record low of 6.42 deaths per 1000 live births which is almost a 3 percent drop from 2008. Boys born in 2009 can expect to at least until age 75.5 while girls will live to 80.5. Reasons for this increased longevity is felt to be a result of better medical treatment, improved vaccination rates and decreases in smoking.
Read Rabbit in the Moon in hardback, eBook and Audiobook
In December, 2009, we blogged about 54 year old Liu Xiaobo and his harsh 11 year prison sentence for subversion.
Yesterday, the passionate, chain-smoking Chinese dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for helping to spearhead a campaign for more freedom in China.
Liu is currently serving his sentence at Jinzhou prison in Liaoning, hundreds of miles from his home and wife in Beijing.
Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “Liu Xiaobo is a sentenced criminal who has violated Chinese law,” and honoring him “runs counter to the principles of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
In 1996, Liu spent 3 years in a labor camp after demanding clemency for those still imprisoned as a result of their roles in the 1989 student democracy demonstrations that resulted in the shooting of hundreds if not thousands in Tiananmen Square by Chinese soldiers. To this day, the Chinese government refers to that massacre as the June 4th incident.
Charter 08, a document penned by Liu and hundreds of other dissidents in 2008, called for the end of one party rule in China and ultimately led to the 11 year sentence Liu is now serving. Ironically, Charter 08 is virtually unknown in China because the government made a concerted effort at the time to shut down any mention of it on the Internet within the country.
Whether the Nobel Prize will soften the government’s attitude toward dissidents like Liu and events like the Tiananmen massacre remains to be seen.
On December 10, 2008, International Human Rights Day, a petition called Charter ‘08 appeared on the Internet. More than 10,000 dissidents signed the document before it was removed from the web by the Chinese government. The petition was drafted by 53 year old Liu Xiaobo a former literature professor who spent 21 months in detention for his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square. It called for the end to China’s one-Party rule including free speech, the rule of law and open elections.
Last Friday, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison for subversion based on his involvement in Charter 08 as well as six articles he published on the Internet outside of China. For two years after he serves his term, Liu will be prevented from any public dissent. Most China experts agree that what is the longest sentence for subversion in over a decade was meant to send a message to other potential critics of the government.
In recent years, as China has had to deal with such domestic issues as tainted milk, poorly constructed schools that crushed many children in the Sichuan earthquake, increasing poverty in the countryside and rising government corruption, the leadership received more criticism from within the country. The same fears of destabilization that resulted in the shooting of hundreds if not thousands of protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989, produced a quick reaction to Charter ‘08 with a wave of crackdowns designed to squelch dissent before a series of politically sensitive 2009 anniversaries. These included the 50th anniversary of the Tibet uprising that led to the Dalai Lama’s exile on March 10th, the 10th anniversary of the Fuling Gong protests on April 25, the 10th anniversary of the banning of the Fuling Gong from China on July 22th, the 90th anniversary of the pro-democracy student movement that started the cultural rebirth of China on May 4th, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4th and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st.
According to human rights organizations, over 100 signatories of Charter ’08 were immediately placed under surveillance. Wong Rongquig, age 65, and a long time activist who has attempted to organization the Democratic Party, a new political party, was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of subversion of state power. Liu was held in secret for over a year before his trial, which lasted just 2 hours. His lawyers apparently had under 2 weeks for preparation.
Chinese Internet service providers removed all postings of Charter ’08. Bullog.cn, one of the most influential hosting services for Chinese intellectuals was shut down.
In a further Internet crackdown, the government launched a campaign to control online portals and major search engines such as Google and MSN by searching in Chinese for the words: “Charter ‘08”.
News of Liu’s sentence was officially blocked in China, but managed to be spread worldwide through Twitter.
At a time when China is enjoying a new wave of nationalism and its government, greater popular support that at any other time in recent Chinese history, there is clearly still the constant fear within the leadership that “too much” media freedom could potentially challenge their one-Party hold in the face of growing economic and social destabilization.
On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman rejected calls from international sources to free Liu, stating that this was strictly an internal issue.
In 1996, Liu spent 3 years in a labor camp after demanding clemency for those still imprisoned as a result of their roles in the 1989 student democracy demonstrations. To this day, the Chinese government refers to the massacre at Tiananmen Square as the June 4th incident. Charter 08 is virtually unknown in China.
Read the Charter ’08 text