June 4, 1989- Blood in Tiananmen Square

It is 29 years ago today that Chinese soldiers gunned down students and ordinary citizens protesting for greater freedom and a degree of democracy in the communist dictatorship. On the orders of leader Deng Xiaoping protesters were shot. The number killed is not clearly known but it was certainly hundreds and probably thousands.

My Chinese wife was a university student at the time. She lived in a provincial capital far from Beijing but that city was in an uproar too. Students were protesting and on a hunger strike. My wife’s father, afraid for his daughter’s safety, came from her home town to prevent her participating in protest activity. He had been criminalised for being a “stinking intellectual” during the Cultural Revolution so had first hand knowledge of the violence of the Chinese government.   

He got to the city his daughter was in by bus and found her, but there were no buses for the 5 hour return journey. Students had flattened the tyres of the city’s buses to prevent any of their fellow students abandoning the protest and returning home. So father and daughter walked a long distance out of the city and finally hitched a ride on a farmer’s tractor. By that means they got even further from the city and eventually found a bus able to take them home.

The June 4th killing is, my wife tells me, largely forgotten in China by the people at large, except those who lost a son or daughter. The Communist Party has not forgotten, however, and reference to the killing is absolutely forbidden in social media or anywhere else. If I named my wife in this article that would in all probability prevent her returning to China to visit family.

Strangely, some Chinese people in New Zealand would deny me the right to write this article. A friend of mine has a Chinese wife about the same age as mine, and she regards criticism of the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese government (which is much the same thing) as an attack on her family. The Party has been extremely successful in brainwashing the people in the notion that China and the Party are one, and even that China and the Party and your family are one. That harks back to the bad old days when Chairman Mao was presented to youngsters as being the kindly grandfather of all Chinese people. Even as a child my wife did not buy that idea but, under instructions from her parents, certainly went along with it. She even pretended to be sad when he finally made his way into Chinese history.

The Chinese government’s attempts to have the so-called Tiananmen Square “incident” forgotten are documented in “The People’s Republic of Amnesia.” In this book by journalist Louisa Lim are recorded the lives of eight people whose lives were directly impacted by the killing. These include a student involved in the protest and one of the soldiers involved in the killing. The soldier later became an artist and was jailed by the Chinese government for a time for painting the killing he had witnessed and participated in.

The Chinese government, and sadly many Chinese people, would prefer that the killing be forgotten. Perhaps it will be, but not yet.


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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

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