Isabel Hilton: Tiananmen: The Flame Burns On

For the Guardian, Isabel Hilton interviews exiled leaders of the 1989 student movement, including , Wu’er Kaixi, and Wang Chaohua, about their experiences then and in the intervening twenty years. From her introduction:

Last week I listened to a man in his 40s unburden himself of a secret he had carried for two decades. He was a student leader in a major provincial city, and although he was arrested in mid-June 1989, he was released after a month of enforced confessions. He moved to another city and eventually made a successful career. But for 20 years the burden of the hopes that were shattered on 4 June, and the apprehension that he could be targeted at any time by a regime that never forgets and rarely forgives, has weighed on his spirit. It is part fear, part depression, part rage.

Some are still in prison. Others, in mourning, are still harassed. A few campaign openly for a reversal of the Communist Party’s verdict that the movement was the work of “a small clique of counter-revolutionaries” who wanted to overthrow the party and the socialist system. Behind the few high-profile campaigners and is the much larger throng of those who still nurse memories too painful to discuss.

It’s been two decades since that lone protester defied a column of tanks on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace, before vanishing, never to be identified. Since that time, China has prospered economically. The party has embraced the market and traded the socialist system it claimed to defend for the pleasures of getting rich. Younger generations are vague about a movement that still cannot be publicly discussed or documented. But the suppression at Tiananmen continues to exact a high price: the constant falsification of history, a political system frozen by the fear of the people’s judgment, and a leadership that sees the ghosts of Tiananmen wherever voices call for political reform.

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