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  • Oct 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:05pm
Tiananmen Square crackdown
NewsChina
TIANANMEN SQUARE ANNIVERSARY

Hongkongers and mainlanders born in 1989 reflect on what Tiananmen Square means to them

On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, we ask 25-year-olds from Hong Kong and the mainland for their opinions on the event and its legacy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 10:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 12:53pm
 

For some, being born in the year of Tiananmen Square serves as a constant reminder of what an autocratic regime is capable of when met with dissent. For others, the tragic event is merely a piece of history that continues to fade with the emergence of first world worries.

Exactly 25 years after the bloody crackdown, 25-year-olds from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland remain divided on their perception of June 4.

“This part of history is very taboo for us, the exact details are not very clear.”
Sun Xuebin

“This part of history is very taboo for us, the exact details are not very clear,” Sun Xuebin, a Shandong-born Beijing resident, said.

Sun, who now works in the education and training industry, says he didn’t learn about the event until he was 18. “My mother told me that my uncle was in Beijing at the time and she was worried he would end up in jail.”

When asked to summarise the event, Sun said: “There was a power struggle between some very educated students and the party, and to preserve its power, the party declared martial law against the students and many innocent people died, I don’t know how many.”

Similarly, a Sichuan-native who only wanted to be known by his English name, Alex Li, said he did not learn about the event until he was studying abroad in France. Li recalled watching clips of a documentary on the incident with his dorm mate.

“I thought it was absurd, how could I not know.”
Alex Li

“We began searching for more videos online and ended up watching them late into the night,” Li said, “I thought it was absurd, how could I not know?”

“When I first learned about it, I got very emotional and even angry; the documentaries on the incident were obviously made with the intent of making people angry.”

Watch: Chinese mainland travellers visit Hong Kong June 4th museum ahead of 25th anniversary

“But now, I think the situation was not so simple as that. It could not have been just a student demonstration, I think some of the protesters in the square really enjoyed being leaders, not everyone was protesting for the right reasons” Li said.

In the digital age, mainlanders have more access to information than ever before, despite the authorities’ internet censorship and Weibo, a microblogging service, serves as a forum to express opinions online.

“I don’t feel like I’m not free, as the students in the documentaries probably did,” Li said. “But I have no interest in pursuing politics, I have enough problems of my own.”

Since 1989, China has become the world’s second largest economy, behind only the US after years of unprecedented economic growth. Western lifestyles and products have flooded into the mainland, offering young adults like Sun and Li luxuries their parents never had. Some critics believe young people have become more materialistic and less politically aware.

“The truth surrounding the incident was stifled and injustice was done, but I cannot relate to it.”
Lin Junjie

“I worry about rent and my personal life. I know many people in government are corrupt, but I don’t feel the need to stand up to them,” Sun said.

Lin Junjie, a graduate student from the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at National Taiwan University, said that he began learning about the incident around the fourth grade (age 9-10), but even now he finds it difficult to know how to feel.

“At first I was like everyone else, I felt like China was a dark and violent place with no freedom. But now, I can only say that the truth surrounding the incident was stifled and injustice was done, but I cannot relate to it,” he said.

In Hong Kong, where students like Lo Yan-chi took the path of social activism – he was among those who protested in the city against the high-speed railway to Guangzhou in 2010 – emotions run high.

“I didn’t realise there’s more to life than studying for exams before my secondary teacher showed us in class a documentary on the Tiananmen massacre,” said Lo, a cultural studies graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“It’s moving to see that some young people back then could go that far and sacrificed their lives for the common good,” he said.

“Hong Kong’s fate since the handover has become intertwined with China’s, and that’s why it’s essential for Hongkongers to better understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Lo Yan-chi

While the “nativist” movement in recent years has suggested that Hong Kong should sever its ties with the mainland and even stop holding the annual candlelit vigil to commemorate June 4, Lo insisted the ritual must carry on to “enlighten the politically apathetic”.

“Whether you like it or not, Hong Kong’s fate since the handover has become intertwined with China’s, and that’s why it’s essential for Hongkongers to better understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

“Our generation will live to see what our hometown will become after 2047 and witness this growing sense of local identity transforming into a political force.”

Emerging social movement figures like Joshua Wong Chi-fung have made him more hopeful about the city’s future as young people demonstrate that they are already thinking about subsequent generations.

But those from his parents’ generation should not shy away from social activism, he said.

“They have a moral obligation to give back to their hometown after enjoying most of the benefits from the prosperity and economic boom during the 1970s and 1980s,” he said.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

req
Couldn't digest lead? Well don't stand around and let them feed it to you.
Camel
For the ones who know Tiananmen only from what they have been told now they should ask student leader Chai Lin what really happened as she was the one who was hoping for a bloodshed to awaken the people to start the revolution. They should ask student leader Wuer Kaixi, who with other student leader had a meeting with Li Peng just day before Li Peng ordered (or triggered the order by Deng Xiao Ping) the crackdown with the help of the military.
They should ask those students, who came up with the brilliant idea to created the "statue or goddess of democracy" in a way just like an image of the US Statue of Liberty to provoke the Central Government and to let them assume that the US and Taiwan might be behind the assembly and protest at Tiananmen to overthrow the Communist Party. Who knows. They know and you should ask them. But what will they tell you? well definitely not the real thing as as always, they still want to be seen as heroes but full of regret that they missed the golden time of Chinas development were people of China have reached now the wealth they were protesting for. And to be fair, the Central Government as well will do its utmost to just forget this sad moment in China's History what happend at that place. Yes, the Central Government should take the blame, but also those student leaders at that time as they were knowingly leading the students to their death because they were hard in their position "not to let the government win" as Chai Lin put it.
johnsonwkchoi
Those were involved are divided. Those that were born in 1989 or after 1979 still have NO clue that happened in 1989 - they were told by somebody, that somebody was told by somebody and that somebody was again told by somebody....depends on the messenger(s) and how it was being spinned especially by the Western media...let our fantasy ride. Stopping the riot or the coup in 1989 by Western nations SAVE China from becoming the 51st State of the United States. Whether it is good or bad NOT becoming the 51st State of America...we need to ask the people in China today.
Rambo
While Tiananmen June 4, 1984 was a tragedy, some of the blame must be squarely put on the student leaders which having made their points and having being allowed to embarrass the Beijing government like even giving a public scolding to the then Chinese PM Li Peng during their occupation of Tiananmen Square for 6 weeks, they should have compromised and left and not pushed events to a tragic end. One of the lessons of democracy is compromise. The students knowing nothing about maintenance of law and order, power and compromise overlooked the most important detail in a working democracy, that is compromise otherwise you get the problems of democracy like in Thailand or the US with the GOP and democrats being at each other throats and shutting down government.
skywalker
“I don’t feel like I’m not free, as the students in the documentaries probably did,” Li said. “But I have no interest in pursuing politics, I have enough problems of my own.”
This is exactly the attitude what a totalitarian government is building on to keep its powers. Make people think that they are free by giving them enough candy and let them just struggle enough and worry enough loosing this wealth.
Problems come when you do not agree how the government is running the country. One child policy is a good example. "Luckily" urban/metropolitan wealth and lifestyle comes with the wish not having children. What if the majority of the new middle class suddenly discovers a family lifestyle of having 2 or more kids? Then this middle class would have to persuade its government to allow them having more kids. And then they would realise what political freedom is or is not.That is just one example...
martinturner
Gosh, " a rickshaw driver peddles wounded people to a Beijing hospital". Burke and Hare would call that enterprising.
winter44
“They have a moral obligation to give back to their hometown after enjoying most of the benefits from the prosperity and economic boom during the 1970s and 1980s,” Joshua Wong Chi-fung said.
Give me a break. Unlike him, his parents' generation were not born into such prosperity he's taken for granted. They had to work their butts off so he now has the luxury to demonstrate against this and that, with self-righteousness he doesn't deserve.
321manu
“I thought it was absurd, how could I not know?”---and it continues to be absurd. One can agree with Deng; one could sympathize with the students; or one could land somewhere in between in terms of apportioning responsibility for the protest and violent aftermath. But the whitewashing of history and annual uptick in oppression on the mainland at this time of year remains an absurdity. The CCP can't begin to hope to achieve any real level of legitimacy until it is mature enough to do away with such absurdities.
 
 
 
 
 

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