Twenty-five years later, those concepts are as foreign to China as dairy and flatware:
During a Harvard University conference Saturday marking the 25-year anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, students stood, gave their names, and posed questions to a panel of former protesters.
But one young woman, a freshman from China, would not give her name.
“I took this class because I am the generation that’s being brainwashed,” she told the packed auditorium. “Everything I knew about June 4, 1989, was the fragments I heard from my dad.”
A quarter-century after tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into Beijing to suppress a student-led prodemocracy movement, fear persists. The Chinese government has only minimally acknowledged its crackdown, which killed hundreds of the protesters and possibly thousands, and heavily censors media references and Web searches related to the 1989 protests.
“I wanted to know more about this part of history that was hidden from my people, that was a taboo for decades,” the student said, explaining why she enrolled in a class on the Tiananmen uprising.
What happened in Tiananmen 25 years ago? You asked:
“I’m very reluctant to tell what I saw and experienced,” said Liane Lee, a former student journalist who traveled from Hong Kong to Beijing to document the protests. “But I don’t think I have a choice, because I was rescued by those people. They are so courageous, so brave. They are good people.”
Lee spent nearly an hour describing in vivid detail her experiences in Tiananmen. She recalled trying in vain to restrain a hysterical, bereaved protester who wanted to attack soldiers he said had killed his brother. Lee later fainted when she saw the man later being carried away, suffering from a severe gunshot wound.
She also recalled being shepherded into an ambulance by an insistent doctor as Chinese Army units firing guns moved into the square.
“She told me, ‘My child, please get in the ambulance and leave the square safely. Go back to Hong Kong . . . tell the world what our government has done to us,’ ” Lee said, as another panelist wept.
Also at the conference was Jeff Widener, the photographer who captured the iconic image of a Chinese man standing in front of a column of tanks. Widener shook his head as he listened to Fang Zheng, a student whose legs were crushed by a tank as he tried to lift another protester to safety, describe how Chinese officials tried to use the photograph as evidence that tanks would not have run over protesters. The officials were warning Zheng, a paralympian, not to tell Western news media outlets how he sustained his injuries.
Isn’t it interesting how the one thing the Chinese despots are afraid of is the truth? More than having committed these atrocities, they fear being discovered. Still.
[Professor] He said some of her students drew parallels to the Boston Marathon bombings last year, which occurred on April 15, the same date the Tiananmen protests began in 1989.
“They felt like they could identify, understand what it was like to lose legs,” she said.
As He watched television coverage of memorials for Marathon bombing victims this month, she lamented that China never had a similar opportunity to mourn and reflect.
“People here got the counseling. They can openly talk about it; they can mourn together,” she said. “I felt like, why didn’t we get a chance to heal?”
China teaches us that if revolutions are violent, permanent revolutions are permanently violent. What happened in Tiananmen 25 years ago is part of a continuum of bone-crushing and oppression unbroken from 1949 through the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward to this very day. The only thing that unnerves such totalitarian regimes is the truth. Which is why they teach even their victims (especially their victims) to fear the truth.
The only mildly surprising thing about the events of a quarter-century ago was that it took the Chinese tyrants so long to act.