Tiananmen 25 Liveblog: The Battle Against Amnesia

The 1989 protests and subsequent military crackdown are among the most taboo subjects in the media, academia or other public forums in China, and as a result, a whole generation has now grown up largely unaware of the significance of those events. As the 25th anniversary of June 4th approaches, scores of participants and witnesses to the protests in China have tried to keep their memories alive by recording their accounts and impressions of the spring of 1989. The South China Morning Post online team has created a multi-layered, multimedia feature which features the voices of some of those who participated in the protests. Many others, from foreign students resident in Beijing to soldiers tasked with clearing Tiananmen Square, have spoken with journalists or written essays detailing their experiences. CDT will post these remembrances here, with most recent entries at the top. For more on the anniversary, check our Tiananmen 25 Years tag page. For the best of our coverage and translation on 1989 over the past decade, read here. And see also our ongoing series of original news reporting from the spring of 1989.

Please check back here often for updates.

josh rudolph June 4, 20145:46 PM

In telling the story of how his telegraph of support to the recently dismissed editor of a liberal (and now defunct) Chinese newspaper became a protest slogan, director of the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project Qian Gang—then an active-duty officer and PLA reporter—provides a glimpse into China’s news media during the ’89 Democracy Movement:

In April 1989, as protests raged in Beijing and other Chinese cities, I dispatched a telegram to Qin Benli (钦本立), the editor-in-chief of the World Economic Herald in which I expressed my sympathy and support following his ouster from the outspoken 1980s-era newspaper. I was an active-duty officer at the time, working as a reporter for the People’s Liberation Army Daily, where I was in charge of the news desk. Though intended only as a personal message of respect and support, that telegram opened a Pandora’s Box of troubles. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 20145:29 PM

Student protester Fang Zheng had his legs amputated after being run over by a PLA tank on June 4th, 1989. China Change has published his memory of that bloody morning in Beijing:

I was walking with the girl from my school, and around six o’clock, we turned onto W. Chang’an Avenue that runs east-west across Beijing and passed in front of Tian’anmen, and kept walking westward on the sidewalks and the bicycle route on the south side of the street. We sensed no danger, nor were there any soldiers in sight. Suddenly we heard explosions, one right next to us, and with it, a cloud of green-yellowish smoke cloaked us. The girl fell in the sudden chaos. My first reaction was to pick her up and move her to the sidewalk. But there were five-foot-tall fences separating the sidewalk and bike route, and as I turned to lift her over the fences, I saw, through the fog, a row of tanks, three or four of them, speeding towards the students. One of them was already very close to me, so close I felt its main gun was right over my head. I pushed the girl hard against the fence.

Next – it must have been just a matter of one or two seconds– I felt I was being squeezed and then dragged. I remember thinking, “Shit, I’m being run over.” With my shoulders and arms I pulled hard against the ground. I fell off and rolled to the roadside against the fence. My last visual memory was the white bones of my legs, and then I lost consciousness, first receding sound and then a bright spot moving farther away. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 20145:09 PM

With many young Chinese unaware of—or unwilling to contemplate—the June 4th crackdown, The Hindu’s Ananth Krishnan asks current students of Peking University (Bei Da), an institution pivotal to the ’89 Democracy Movement, about that fateful day:

I travelled to Bei Da to dine with a small group of students, who were willing to share their thoughts on June 4, 1989. The subject of the protests is taboo in China today. They find no mention in textbooks, in the media or in public debates. There are many chapters in the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that it would rather forget: from Mao Zedong’s catastrophic Great Leap Forward in 1958 that resulted in famine claiming 30 million lives to the decade-long brutality of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) that shattered the lives of millions.

But it is the memory of 1989, which ironically had far fewer casualties, that appears to worry the Party the most. The CPC allows some amount of reflection on the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Any word on 1989, however, is not tolerated if it questions the CPC’s “conclusion” on the event, which describes the young students, who all saw themselves as patriots attempting to cleanse the country of corruption and authoritarianism, as “counterrevolutionaries” and “rioters”. Scholars or citizens who question that narrative are silenced. The CPC is so concerned about a public debate on 1989 that even private gatherings are disrupted: last month, a group of scholars who met to mark the anniversary in Beijing were rounded up and detained. But 25 years on, it appears that the CPC’s approach has been so effective that the Party might not have much reason to be concerned, at least judging from what I heard at Bei Da. Without exception, they appeared to buy into the party line. “China was in chaos, the party had no choice,” one student told me. These were not students who were clueless about what happened on the night of June 3. They all had software that allowed them to scale the “Great Firewall” of Internet restrictions, and watch on YouTube the videos showing bleeding students and tanks moving into Chang’an Avenue. Yet they found Deng’s reasoning understandable, if only because of the two decades of prosperity that have followed 1989. They were the generation that accepted Deng’s grand bargain: prosperity for silence. All the same, it was difficult to hear the words of young girl who told me, very calmly, “I would have done what Deng did”. Lu Xun was wrong: 1989 crushed the spirit of Bei Da. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 20145:01 PM

Quartz’s Lily Kuo talks to exiled student leader Shen Tong about June 4th, 1989, and his thoughts on China today:

On June 4, 1989, Shen Tong, then a 20-year-old biology student at China’s best university who had spent the last six weeks organizing protests in Beijing, witnessed what is now known as the Tiananmen Massacre. From the doorstep of his mother’s apartment, a few miles west of Tiananmen Square, he saw a man bleed to death in a doorway. A young woman next to him was shot in the face; a line of tanks ran over a group of hunger strikers from behind as they were walking away from the square.

Before the bloody crackdown, he and his peers had reveled in the sense of possibility for reform. “’89 was for China, back then, not a tragedy. It was a carnival, a celebration. It was the first time that a popular protest very firmly subscribed to the nonviolent principles and it was a reform movement,” he told Quartz.

Today, Tong is a businessman living in New York City. He remembers the protest movement with a complicated mixture of guilt and hope, and sees similarities between his generation and the young people of China today. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 20144:44 PM

As the ’89 Democracy Movement was gaining momentum and students were pouring into Tiananmen Square, the spirit was also felt by their peers elsewhere in China. The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs, at the time an English teacher in Hubei, recalls:

I was a 23-year-old English teacher at Hubei University, and until that spring, I had thought my students were hopelessly quiescent, cowed by the suffocating repression and resigned to their dreary fates. “We need to let the leaders in Beijing know that the young people of this country are willing to die for freedom,” said one of my students, David, a 19-year-old English major who became an organizer of the civil disobedience that swept the campus.

One of his boldest moves was to orchestrate a takeover of the campus public address system. He and a band of young collaborators renamed it “rebel radio,” and their dawn-to-dusk broadcasts criticized the Communist Party while exhorting classmates to join the daily protests that would later block the sole rail line across the Yangtze.

The momentous upheaval 25 years ago that brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the heart of the Chinese capital has been well documented, thanks to the large foreign press corps that was based in Beijing. But less well known is that the protests against inflation and official corruption took place across the nation, paralyzing cities large and small for nearly two months that spring. [...]

Tea Leaf Nation has created a time-lapse map of protests that swept the country after the June 4th crackdown. Also see Louisa Lim’s coverage of the violent suppression of protesters in Chengdu who denounced the Tiananmen crackdown from NPR, or read about it in detail in her book The People’s Republic of Amnesia.

josh rudolph June 4, 20144:21 PM

While the June 4th crackdown may have effectively deterred many idealistic young protesters from continuing to pursue the democratic principles that brought them to the square, it reinforced the dedication of others. The South China Morning Post looks at how Tiananmen Square inspired the careers of rights lawyer Mo Shaoping and liberal intellectual Cao Siyuan.

josh rudolph June 4, 20141:00 PM

As the people below remember their experiences in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, the New Republic looks at how the democracy movement and momentous crackdown exists far outside of the consciousness of China’s younger generation:

Twenty-five years after June 4, 1989, even China’s educated youth have only a foggy understanding of the incident, and they’re skittish about discussing it openly. Textbooks don’t mention the violence that left hundreds, maybe thousands, dead in the streets of Beijing. The Chinese Internet has been scrubbed of all but the official accounts. (The first result on the search engine Baidu is a short article from People’s Daily concluding that the incident “taught the party and the people a useful lesson.”) The Chinese government has arrested dozens of people in recent weeks for planning or participating in events related to the anniversary, and police have warned foreign journalists not to cover the story. Still, most young Chinese people I approached were willing to talk—as long as they could remain anonymous.

[...] Most Chinese parents don’t talk about politics with their children, said Amy, a bright 26-year-old from Guangdong province who works for a tech company in Beijing. But she was an exception: she heard about the incident from her father. “He hated Deng Xiaoping,” she said. “He thinks Deng caused China to have no morals, no beliefs. I asked why, and he said, ‘Deng Xiaoping ordered tanks to run over college students. Do you think that’s what a good person does?’” Later, when she was attending a top university in Beijing, one of her professors showed photos and videos from the protests. “The teacher told us not to mention it outside class,” she said. [...]

At Vox, Max Fisher also describes this unawareness:

The number that generates the most discussion around the Tiananmen massacre, which began 25 years ago today, is typically the death toll. China’s official statistic is 241 dead, which virtually no one believes. Two eyewitness accounts, by a Swiss ambassador and the Red Cross, estimated that 2,600 or 2,700 were killed in Beijing alone, just one of the cities where Chinese troops mowed down peaceful protesters. Both estimates were withdrawn under Chinese government pressure.

But there’s another number that, while even less scientific, may be a better metric for understanding the June 1989 crackdown and what it means for China today. It’s the number of Beijing university students who, in an informal survey, recognized the “tank man” photo that for the rest of the world is an immediately recognizable symbol of the 1989 protests and massacre: just 15 out of 100. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 201412:40 PM

Terril Yue Jones, a journalist who helped to document June 4th, 1989, recalls his memories and shares his photogaphs—including an accidental alternative angle of the iconic “”Tank Man”—at the Wilson Quarterly:

It was a chaotic but exhilarating time. While my photos are somewhat faded, my memories are not. As a journalist covering the Beijing protests and ultimate PLA response, it was a heady time of pumping adrenalin that was a reporter’s dream: a monumental event unfolding before our eyes, spectacular backdrops and complete uncertainty as to what would happen next. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 201412:34 PM

The New York Public Library recently hosted dissident author, writer, and poet Liao Yiwu, who performed the poem “Massacre,” which he composed on June 4th, 1989 after hearing about the crackdown. The full translation can be read at the Tricycle blog

Also see Liao Yiwu’s reflection on June 4th, 1989 and his father’s warning to “be good, stay at home, [and] never provoke the Communist Party,” at the New York Review of Books.

josh rudolph June 4, 201412:20 PM

Exiled writer Ma Jian, who was himself among the many gathered in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, reflects on the atmosphere in the square, the violent quashing of the ’89 Democracy Movement, and the legacy that remains. From The Guardian:

Tiananmen revealed the true face not only of the Chinese people, but of the CCP as well, which was exposed as a regime prepared to massacre its own unarmed citizens in order to maintain its power. It is both mistaken and morally repugnant to argue that the deaths were necessary to “re-establish order” and guarantee future growth. Taiwan is clear proof that the Chinese can successfully combine democracy with capitalism. China’s rapid economic rise over the past 25 years is thanks in most part not to the Communist party but to non-unionised Chinese workers prepared to labour in poor conditions for low wages. An accountable, democratic government would have no doubt achieved a less frenzied, more sustainable economic rise, with less corruption and environmental devastation.

Until now, the only apparent victor of Tiananmen has been the CCP. The massacre destroyed its moral legitimacy, but like a resilient virus, it has mutated in unforeseen ways to ensure its survival. Under the slogan of authoritarian capitalism, it has filled the bellies of the Chinese people while shackling their minds; encouraged a lust for material wealth while stifling the desire to reflect on the past and ask questions about the present. But the party’s victory is a hollow one. Its near psychotic repression of any mention of Tiananmen reveals its guilt for past bloodshed and terror of the truth.

Meanwhile the list of victims of Tiananmen continues to grow. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 201411:56 AM

The LA Review of Books has published an essay by Mishi Saran. Soon to be leaving China, the writer explains how her time in country has “been bookended by those long-ago events [...] centered on Tiananmen Square” that she witnessed as a foreign student in Beijing:

On April 19, 1989, I biked to Tiananmen Square to see what was going on. For over five heady weeks, I kept going, to look. We all went.

Our parents overseas were frantic. Mine sent telexes saying “please come home.” Two days after the school’s final exams, I obeyed, but grumpily.

I boarded a train south, to Guangzhou from Beijing. In Guangzhou, I planned to cross the border into Hong Kong and then fly home to New Delhi. Leaving helter-skelter, I never collected my course completion certificate. (Over two decades later, another friend handed it to me, saved in his own papers.)

A friend, R., took the same train south with me. He remembers seeing another train going north, loaded with tanks. R. had continued to Hainan, for a holiday. The tension in Beijing was spreading even to Hainan. The police were knocking on doors, hunting for a Chinese student who had escaped there.

josh rudolph June 4, 201411:19 AM

TIME profiles Jonathan Chan, Kenneth Lam, and Liane Lee, three Hong Kong students who headed north to provide support for their mainland peers in Tiananmen Square, and left Beijing as “emissaries of information”:

On June 5, 1989, Jonathan Chan arrived at Beijing airport with two swollen bumps visible on the back of his head. In a line of tired and weary student demonstrators, eager to slip out of the capital if not the country, the 24-year-old slid his hand into his pocket, fingering the single roll of film he had rescued moments before his camera had been smashed by Chinese soldiers. A journalist standing next to him took notice, quickly explaining how he might break open the roller, overexpose the images, and protect himself if he were stopped by airport immigration. Then Chan walked to the front of the line and waited for the inevitable question.

“Were you on the square?” the immigration official asked.

“I was,” Chan said, expecting to be detained.

Frowning, the official leaned in.

“Then go and tell the world,” the official said softly, before waving him through. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 201411:08 AM

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs interviews artist Chen Guang on his experience being deployed to Beijing in May of 1989 as martial law was declared:

[Q:] Before you were sent to Beijing, what did you know about the protests taking place there?

[A:] In the beginning they told us we were coming to Beijing to maintain order. But after we arrived, we learned it was actually to impose martial law. What we were told was that the students leading the anticorruption campaign were good, but among them were a few bad eggs who were influencing them. “The situation is critical, and many institutions and bureaucracies are collapsing,” we were told.

We were brainwashed. We were told “Listen to the Central Military Commission and obey the party’s orders.” [...]

Chen Guang was detained early last month, likely due to a private art performance he held evoking the June 4 crackdown. Read Chen’s story in detail in Louisa Lim’s The People’s Republic of Amnesia, or listen to a recent NPR report she filed on the soldier-turned-artist.

josh rudolph June 4, 201410:40 AM

While on his first trip to his ancestral homeland, Chinese-American Alan Chin made his way to Beijing in late spring 1989. Reuters has published his memories and photographs from Tiananmen Square:

Yet we flew up to Beijing without any trepidation. After many weeks, the student encampment in the heart of Tiananmen Square was looking bedraggled, with protesters sleeping in dusty tents and volunteer crews struggling to keep up with garbage. If anything, it seemed as if the lack of response from the government would atrophy the movement. The activists had, on one hand, succeeded in focusing the eyes of China and the world on the pent-up hunger for more democracy, more reform, more money. But as is often the case with protest, they had little idea how any of that might come about, except through thus-far unforthcoming benign directives from above.

Trying to reinvigorate morale, art students unveiled a statue of the Goddess of Democracy, directly facing the portrait of Mao above the Tiananmen Gate, and I photographed it. But as I struggle to clearly recall those late May and early June days from what feels like another life, I am struck that we did not take the entire situation more seriously. Daily life went on in the city. Army soldiers dawdled from their parked trucks lined up on the boulevards, chatting with passersby and eating popsicles. We visited the Ming Tombs, and dined on Peking duck. The Forbidden City was closed, but the Temple of Heaven was open.

I wandered through the Square a few times. I took pictures, though not very many. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” alternated with the “Internationale” over the student loudspeakers. I did not talk to many people, not only because of my poor Mandarin, but also because I was content to merely observe. I wasn’t sure what I was really doing there, and I didn’t think through what might happen next and why it might be important. All of China was new and interesting to me; a massive political upheaval seemed just par for the course. [...]

josh rudolph June 4, 201410:22 AM

Stuart Franklin, the man responsible for the iconic “Tank Man” photograph, tells The Guardian of his experience in Beijing 25 years ago:

I had arrived in Beijing in the last week of May 1989, working for Magnum on assignment for Time magazine. I got myself a bicycle to get around the city and was staying just off the square. It was relatively easy to work as a photographer back then, by today’s standards. The political class weren’t as sophisticated at handling the press, or realising the power that they had.

On 30 May, Chinese art students wheeled a huge statue out into the square that resembled the Statue of Liberty. It became a symbol of democracy and was described in New York, and by the press, as the “Goddess of Democracy”. The Chinese were protesting for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and an end to corruption but they didn’t know the rhetorical force of this figure, and how she would be used and seen as a powerful image all over the world.

After the statue was brought in, and once protesters had been camped out for weeks, the government realised they needed to act. Two days before the crackdown, the army arrived in bulk and the atmosphere changed radically. Within a few hours, truckloads of troops arrived from all different directions. At the time, no one really knew what was going on. In fact, there were even rumours of civil war across China. [...]

Sophie Beach June 4, 201412:31 AM

The Los Angeles Times has posted a video of its correspondents reminiscing about covering China in 1989.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201411:15 PM

Harvard Magazine has conducted interviews with a number of Harvard-affiliated scholars - including Ezra F. Vogel, Adi Ignatius, Edward Steinfeld and Rowena Xiaoqing He – about their recollections of the Tiananmen protests and their impact.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201410:45 PM

For Reuters, Sui-Lee Wee interviews Zhang Xianling, whose teenage son was killed on June 4th when he went to Tiananmen Square to take photos:

Before he left his home late on June 3, 1989, he asked his mother:”Do you think the troops would open fire?” She said she did not. Around three hours later, he was shot dead by soldiers.

As his 77-year-old mother, Zhang Xianling, prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of her son’s death, she is under around-the-clock surveillance by eight police and security officers.

Zhang said the level of scrutiny this year was unprecedented. As early as April, police officers barred foreign journalists, including Reuters reporters, from visiting her home.

“I find it ridiculous, I’m an old lady,” Zhang told Reuters by telephone. “What can I say (to reporters)? I don’t know any state secrets. All I can talk about is the matter concerning my son. What is there to be afraid of?”

Sophie Beach June 3, 201410:15 PM

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore interviews rock musician Cui Jian, the “godfather of Chinese rock,” who performed for the protesters in Tiananmen Square:

You played at Tiananmen Square in 1989. What was it like?

It’s easy to answer that it was like a huge party. Everybody was having fun, [you felt it] deeply from your body. You wanted to go back every day. I am Beijing-ren [person], I didn’t want to stay home at that moment. It is just a moment I believe will be forever in my memory. I wanted to see as much as I could.

How do you feel about it today?

Even now, years later, I still don’t talk about it. It’s a closed history. There is an ideology still felt among young people, which is you just don’t talk about sensitive things. You attempted it once and because you failed you don’t talk about it again. This is self-imposed ideology, self-imposed censorship.

A recording of Cui’s performance at Tiananmen on May 20, 1989 is available on Soundcloud:

josh rudolph June 3, 20142:40 PM

The Anthill has published David Moser’s recollection of that fateful spring of 1989, which he followed closely from a visit back to the U.S. after while a visiting scholar at Peking University:

As events in Tiananmen square began to unfold in April and May, I largely depended on the nascent US 24/7 TV news cycle for updates. I spent many sleepless nights with my ear glued to the shortwave radio, listening to Voice of America and the BBC. The information age had not yet arrived in China – there was no Internet, no mobile phones to speak of, and fax machines were a corporate luxury. Even landline phones in homes and work units were very rare. After the massacre in the early morning of June 4, I had no earthly way of knowing the fate of my Beida friends. So it was with great relief that, a few days after the crackdown, I began to receive, at all hours of the night, long-distance phone calls from Beijing. “Can your department issue a student visa to get me out?” “Do you have any contacts at the American embassy?” “Can you phone my relatives in California?” “How do you book a plane ticket?” And sometimes just, “Help.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I often had a better overview of what was happening in Beijing than they did. A chaotic stream of raw images and unprocessed information was coming out of China, and even those on the ground in Beijing were at a loss to make sense of it all. Certainly no one had seen the video of the “tank man”, which had been looping continuously on network news channels in the US. I remember watching the clip for the first time with both shock and familiarity. I knew that stretch of Chang’an boulevard quite well – a stone’s throw from the Beijing Hotel, near Wangfujing, just around the corner from the historic first Xinhua bookstore where my friends and I used to spend Saturday afternoons, sweaty from the two-hour bike ride from Beida.

The television images, mediated through the mind’s eye, contracted space and time in such a way that the distance between me and the tank man seemed less than if I had actually been in Beijing to witness it.

As the summer passed, and the world began to slowly absorb and understand what had happened, my assumption was that I would very likely not see the streets of Beijing for a very long time. I imagined the bureaucracy to be in a complete shambles, and I couldn’t imagine that in all the chaos a visa for a lowly visiting scholar would be approved. But my visa came through more effortlessly than it ever had, and I found myself back at Beida in late August, eating jianbing pancakes for breakfast and biking through the not-yet-demolished hutongs.

josh rudolph June 3, 20142:21 PM

At The Telegraph, Tom Phillips tells the story of Wu Guofeng, one of the first to lose his life in the June 4th crackdown:

Flames from burning vehicles cast an amber haze over Beijing and gunfire echoed through the night as Wu Guofeng ventured out onto the streets to take the photographs that would cost him his life.

Hoping to register the night’s momentous events, the 20-year-old student grabbed his camera, mounted his bike and sped south-east towards the action.
To this day the reasons why Guofeng’s life came to a sudden and vicious end that night remain a mystery.

The facts are that at 3am on June 4 a fellow student had returned to their university dormitory bearing terrible news: Wu Guofeng was dead.

In a tweet, Tom Phillips notes that the former student ID number of the late Guofeng is now blocked on Weibo.

Sophie Beach June 3, 20142:15 PM

In a 12-minute video shot on June 4, 2005, filmmaker Liu Wei asks passersby “Do you know what day it is?” The responses show, “repressed memory in action,” according to ChinaFile’s Susan Jakes:

josh rudolph June 3, 20142:03 PM

In a profile of the labor activist and China Labor Bulletin founder, The National relays Han Dongfang’s experience during the spring of 1989 and the years that followed:

On May 19 1989, martial law was declared in China. Mr Han’s response was to join with other workers and students to form the Beijing Autonomous Workers unions. The people he met on Tiananmen Square had already started to give him ideas on workplace democracy. Meanwhile, he and his colleagues would offer some protection to the students.

“The reason the workers came out onto the streets was to provide moral support for the students, like a big brother, but there was nothing in particular they wanted for themselves,” Mr Han later said.

Moral support can’t fight tanks. On the night of June 3, Mr Han was spirited out of Tiananmen as the troops shot their way onto the square. After a period of wandering, he returned to Beijing and gave himself up.

The authorities had marked him down as a major protest leader. Two years of detention without trial followed, until Mr Han was released in 1991 on medical parole. He had contracted tuberculosis in jail and eventually had to fly to the United States to have a lung removed. [...]

Sophie Beach June 3, 20141:43 PM

On his Facebook page, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof offers a brief and poignant tribute to the protesters he saw in Beijing in 1989.

Sophie Beach June 3, 20141:22 PM

For the New York Times, Helen Gao writes about apathy she sees among her generation in China about events in 1989:

Twenty-five years after the massacre, the topic remains taboo here. I try to piece together the events of that spring through underground documentaries, foreign reports and conversations with my parents. Yet the more facts and anecdotes I gather, the more those crowds and gunshots seem unreal, like tragic scenes from an old foreign film.

To my generation, people born in the late 1980s and 1990s, the widespread patriotic liberalism that bonded the students in the early 1980s at the start of the economic reform period feels as distant as the political fanaticism that defined the preceding decades. Chinese leaders, having learned their lesson during the Tiananmen protests, have kept politics out of our lives, while channeling our energies to other, state-sanctioned pursuits, primarily economic advancement.

Growing up in the post-Tiananmen years, life was like a cruise on a smooth highway lined with beautiful scenery. We studied hard and crammed for exams. On weekends, we roamed shopping malls to try on jeans and sneakers, or hit karaoke parlors, bellowing out Chinese and Western hits.

This alternation between exertion and ennui slowly becomes a habit and, later, an attitude. Both, if well-endured, are rewarded by a series of concrete symbols of success: a college diploma, a prestigious job, a car, an apartment. The rules are simple, though the competition never gets easier; therefore we look ahead, focusing on our personal well-being, rather than the larger issues that bedevil the society.

josh rudolph June 3, 201412:05 PM

The National Film Board of Canada is streaming Shui-Bo Wang’s 1998 documentary Sunrise over Tiananmen Square. From the synopsis:

Shui-Bo Wang’s feature documentary is a visual autobiography of an artist who grew up in China during the historic upheavals of the ‘60s, ’70s and ’80s. A rich collage of original artwork and family and archival photos presents a personal perspective on the turbulent Cultural Revolution and the years that followed. For Shui-Bo Wang and others of his generation, Tiananmen Square was the central symbol of the new China – a society to be based on equality and cooperation. This animated documentary artfully traces Shui-Bo’s roots and his own life journey as he struggles to sort through ideology and arrive at truth.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201410:11 AM

Mike Chinoy, who covered the Tiananmen protests for CNN, has now produced a documentary about foreign journalists in China, which includes an episode which profiles the reporters who covered the events of 1989.

Sophie Beach June 3, 20149:52 AM

The Financial Times profiles several of the most prominent 1989 student leaders and hears their perspective on their role in the protests, 25 years later.

Andrew Jacobs at the New York Times’ Sinosphere also gives updates on several of the student leaders who were on the government’s “21 Most Wanted” list after June 4th.

Sophie Beach June 3, 20149:40 AM

Josh Chin at the Wall Street Journal profiles activist Zhang Kun, who was inspired to take action after learning about the June 4th crackdown on the Internet as a teenager:

Bouncing between searches for news of the 2002 World Cup and surfing Japanese porn sites, he says, he ran across clips from “Gate of Heavenly Peace”—a 1995 documentary about the Tiananmen Square protests produced by Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon.

He had never heard of the protests. “At first I thought it was a movie,” he says. But the footage of state-run television told him otherwise. “Visually, it was an assault,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep for days.”

He tried talking to friends about what he saw until a few threatened to report him to police, he says. He dropped it until years later when social media caught on in China and crackled with criticism of the state.

Postings he read about dissidents being warned by state security agents—known as being “taken out for tea”—and people being corralled into illegal detention centers known as black jails made him wonder what it was like to run afoul of the authorities. He began to show up at protests.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201412:43 AM

For the New York Times’s Sinosphere blog, Chris Buckley tells the story of the Goddess of Democracy statue, which students constructed and erected in Tiananmen Square in late May.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201412:36 AM

Amnesty International interviews activists from the protests, including Shen Tong, who recounts:

“The troops were trapped in and around Beijing. Old ladies, mothers with children in their arms, workers, would give daily lectures to soldiers on what the movement was about and why the troops should leave.

“That was the atmosphere before the massacre. We were all exhausted but as alive as anyone can be.”

Sophie Beach June 3, 201412:31 AM

The Telegraph published a number of previously unseen photographs taken by a protester.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201412:29 AM

Al Pessin, who got expelled from China after the protests while working for Voice of America, writes:

I well remember riding toward Tiananmen Square and getting stuck in a back alley as throngs of marchers streamed past and around our car. My colleague, Heidi Chay, a young American with excellent Chinese, became very animated.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Look at those signs!”

She was pointing at the banners being carried by the various groups of marchers. They identified staff members from factories, offices, hospitals and other “work units.” And the marchers were middle-aged, pot-bellied factory workers and bespectacled intellectuals. Some were wearing lab coats or hospital uniforms.

As soon as the crowd cleared, Heidi got out to walk to Tiananmen Square and talk to people. I told the driver to turn around and take me back to the office. I had a whole new story to file.

Sophie Beach June 3, 201412:18 AM

The New York Times’ Sinosphere blog interviews AP photographer Liu Heung Shing about his experiences shooting the protests and aftermath:

Q. What are your most enduring memories of the night of the massacre?

A. For me, it was the next morning when there was shooting on Chang’an Avenue near the street of Nanchizi. I heard rounds of gunfire. I was outside the Beijing Hotel but was too far away to see the actual firing. The thundering of the gunshots left a deep imprint. When I saw pedestrians kneeling on the ground begging rickshaw drivers to go and fetch the wounded, I decided to ride with them. I followed the rickshaws with one hand on the steering bar of my own bicycle, the other hand holding my camera, photographing victims being rushed to the nearby Beijing Xiehe Hospital.

The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time asks Adi Ignatius, who covered the protests for the paper, a similar question:

What moment stands out to you most?

After the People’s Daily ran its editorial [denouncing the protests on April 26], when the students still decided to march. That was the most unforgettable day of my life. At the campuses in Beijing, I saw people weeping and the farewells and the tears, while professors were urging the student not to march, warning them it wasn’t a joke and blood would be shed. People were writing goodbyes to their families. Then when they marched, we didn’t know what was going to happen, but the soldiers let the students go through and there was this sense of euphoria and accomplishment.

June 4, 2014 12:18 AM
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