Part of our tour of China during our trip to adopt our youngest included, of course, a walk past Mao’s mausoleum, across Tiananmen Square, and into the Forbidden City, passing under the huge portrait of Mao that hangs over the main gate of the largest palace complex in the world.
Scuffing at the stones, I commented to the other “troublemakers” in the group, “Gee, they got the blood stains off pretty well,” referencing the Tiananmen Square crackdown. They glumly nodded and started talking about the famous shot of the guy stopping the tank column. (photo from Wikipedia, with more info on its background)
From the front of the group, someone asked the tour guide (who had just spent fifteen minutes explaining the mausoleum and Chairman Mao’s significance to China) a question. Pointing at Mao’s giant portrait over the main gate to the Forbidden City, she asked, “Who’s this Mr. Yu guy, again?”
I so desperately wanted a shirt that said, “We’re not all this ignorant. Really.”
So, given more *important* news stories, like canonizing Tiller or reporting on the Obamas’ date night (funny, I don’t fly to my date nights; we drive the minivan. So much for “keeping it real”), I don’t expect to see much mainstream media coverage of the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.
The protests started as a mourning gathering for a reformer. They became a call for free press, economic reforms, and a movement towards democracy. Protests spread to other major cities. Something like 100,000 people were in Tiananmen Square, peacefully asking the government to meet with them.
It ended with tanks rolling into the square. Students threw Molotov cocktails, soldiers fired into the crowd. Foreign press outlets were shut down, film was confiscated. The official government estimate of casualties was 241 dead, 7,000 wounded. The Red Cross estimated the dead at more like 2,600 by the end of June 4th, which wouldn’t include those who died of their wounds or were counted later. Other estimates went as high as 7,000 dead and 30,000 wounded. Thousands were imprisoned, permanently blacklisted, fired from university positions, purged from the government, or disappeared into the laogai system.
The other “troublemakers” in our adoption group said their guide in Beijing (they went a few days early to see more of China; they chose Beijing, we chose the terracotta warriors and Xi’an) told them that the Chinese people hardly heard anything about what happened. Information mostly got out from tourists asking, “So what did you think about that?” and then having to explain what had happened, since the state media had completely blacked out the real story of the protests.
Did we remember the June 4th protests when we watched the Olympics? Has China really changed? The crackdown in Tibet looked like more of the same pattern that was used at Tiananmen. Has China ever really changed? Emperor or Communist Party Chairman, there really isn’t much of a difference… except that modern China has even more ability to reach into people’s lives.
This is who owns a huge chunk of our national debt. This is the country that is trying to set itself up as a major world power, maybe even the major power.
Do we remember Tiananmen, Tibet, the government cover-up following the Sichuan earthquake, and the One Child Policy, or are we awed by the incredible, beautiful, fascinating culture and history? Don’t get me wrong: I love China. I adore their art, culture, and natural beauty. I will always emphasize the good points of China first to my daughter and encourage her to be proud of her heritage. But I do not trust its current government. Neither do its people: there are thousands of protests against the government in China every year.
Remember what happened at Tiananmen Square in the weeks leading up to June 4, 1989.
Pray for China, that, when the revolution cannot be suppressed any longer, it will not be as bloody a revolution as the last one.