Tiananmen Square crackdown

Remembering Tiananmen: tragedy that shaped a nation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am


Twenty-two years ago today, hundreds of young lives were brutally crushed in a military crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement - a tragedy that would shape the country's politics for the next two decades.

As Hong Kong today holds its annual commemoration, critics say hopes for a democratic China have never looked more distant.

The crackdown brought the country's nascent political reforms to a standstill and shored up authoritarian rule.

Unnerved by anonymous online calls in February urging people to emulate the revolts against authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, the authorities launched its harshest crackdown on dissent for years. Dozens of rights lawyers, activists and bloggers were detained while others went missing after being taken away by police.

Two mothers whose sons were killed in Tiananmen Square said yesterday that the muffling of the young people's voices in 1989 paved the way for today's repression.

'From the heavy sentencing of [dissident] Liu Xiaobo to [artist] Ai Weiwei's detention, [we can see that] the human rights situation has seriously deteriorated,' said 74-year-old Ding Zilin, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a support group of 127 family members of those killed and injured in the 1989 crackdown. The retired university professor said the government was so afraid of a repeat of the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement that it launched the harshest action in more than two decades to silence its critics.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu was jailed on subversion charges for 11 years in 2009, and Ai, an artist, has been detained for two months.

'No one has forgotten June 4, 1989 - the regime in particular. Why would a Jasmine revolution make them so nervous?' she said by phone, confined to her home by security agents.

She believed it was the government's anxiety over rising social discontent that prompted it to approach the family of a Tiananmen victim twice this year to offer them money. The visits were the first official response since Ding's group started appealing to the government to admit its mistake in 1995, but no apology was offered.

'This shows that [resolving June 4] is more urgent for the authorities than for us,' said Ding, whose 17-year-old son was fatally shot during the crackdown.

Zhang Xianling, 74, said she doubted the authorities' sincerity because victims' families remained closely watched by the authorities, particularly around politically sensitive dates.

Ding was ordered to stay home last night to stop her from paying respects to her son near where he was killed.

Zhang, the mother of a 19-year-old student shot dead near Tiananmen Square, said she hoped the government would satisfy their demands by conducting an impartial investigation into the crackdown, account for each victim's case and compensate all the victims' families.

The government has never released an official death toll - although rights groups' estimates range from several hundred to several thousand.

'My wish is that the June 4 issue be resolved - even so, the pain of losing my child will remain for the rest of my life,' she said.

In Hong Kong, this year's event has an added poignancy as many people see it as a chance to pay tribute to the late democratic leader Szeto Wah - who had been the heart and soul of the city's annual June 4 gathering over the previous 21 years.

Copies of a book about Szeto, prepared by fellow Democratic Party members and friends, will be sold at today's candle-light vigil.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, the party's chairman, said the book brought out mixed feelings in him.

'When I read the book, I sometimes feel angry, sometimes happy and sometimes nostalgic. This book shows how important Uncle Wah is to the democratic movement in Hong Kong.

'It's the first time the vigil will be held without Uncle Wah, but his spirit will be with us,' he said.

An exhibition of Szeto's calligraphy is also being held in Shek Kip Mei until the end of the month.

Separately, about 200 members of pan-democratic faction People Power took part in a march from Western Police Station to the central government's liaison office in Sheung Wan last night.

They surrounded the office and tied jasmine flowers - a reference to recent uprisings in the Middle East - to the gates as a sign of mourning for the dead students.