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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tiananmen Questions; Was it a lark gone wrong?


Tiananmen Square MassacreAs June 4 rolls around the Internet and the traditional news has not been what you might call "full" of stories about that eventful day fifteen years ago. Of course the perennials have been trotted out, the "that time of the year" type fillers, articles and commentaries with titles such as "Dissidents watched" and "Crackdown starts" etc, etc but given what one could assume is the importance of the day it has been preternaturally quiet.

The truth of the matter appears that, 15 years after June 4, either memories, or at least anger, concerning the Tiananmen Square massacre has faded. I certainly have not come across anything that I would consider new analysis or that has added greatly to the debate about this historic "democracy push" in China and what it now means to the Chinese people.

Of course many do not touch the issue because they do not want to be seen as jumping on the bandwagon for reasons of personal aggrandisement. That is understandable and I admit to being reticent about posting "Tiananmen Massacre" type missives myself for that very reason. But, that phenomenon aside, is June 4 becoming a lesser issue of national importance? Or, more to the point, was it ever?

Was Tiananmen not truly a reflection of the feelings of a nation as it has been popularly portrayed, but only that of a select group? If so has that select group, now in their "responsible years", (30+), been satisfied with China's creation of a middle class, that many have nicely slipped into, to an extent that is reflected in this anniversary's seeming lack of occasion?

It must have been more universal, what about the numbers? People may say there were hundreds of thousands involved supposedly supported by "millions". Surely that was a reflection of popular national sentiment of the time?

But is that true? Yes many did flock to Tiananmen Square in that period from April 27 through to the fatal day but how many were really just spectators? Ordinary people just curious to see this strange sight of students holding the mighty communist party to ransom, sitting atop "captured" armed jeeps and thumbing the powers that be. Just to see what causes the kowtowing to the students by the highest of the high Zhao Ziyang, party Chairman.

If there were truly millions supporting this move to democratisation where have they gone to? A massacre like this is more likely to have inspired such a large group, if it existed, than deterred it so comprehensively. Martyrdom is after all highly inspirational in such times as history can bear witness.

Some commentators have said that the protest leading up to the massacre went on far longer than was necessary, that the government had responded positively to a large number of the demonstrators' demands well before the troops were ordered in. Is this proof that the students, drunk on youthful exuberance and a sense of power, just wanted to continue their feeling a little longer thus pushing the CCP into the response that we came to see? Is the lack of "noise" now proof of that? Proof that it was just a big "party" that went terribly wrong and not some brave student led defiance deriving inspiration from the calls of the masses for democratic change?

Is Zhao Ziyang therefore not the hero he is made out be but more the villain for not exerting non fatal pressure early on to bring the protest to a peaceful close.

Is the reasons traditionally given for Tiananmen a western media/ political beat up?

My verdict is out on these rhetorical questions, all I know is that great moments of importance to millions do not go unmarked to this degree regardless of the ruthlessness of the state.