The Day China’s Heart Froze

Dan Edwards interviews Tiananmen crackdown survivors and about their involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and the ultimate significance of the protests.  From

Liu’s path after the crackdown was rockier. After fleeing to Nanjing in China’s south on 5 June, he and a friend decided to return to the capital a week or so later when arrest lists were issued. “I wanted to disclose the truth in court. To defend our actions,” he explains. “Actually,” he adds ruefully, “it never went to court. The process stopped at the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The decision was exempt from the public court system. I stayed in jail for 20 months.” Upon release he was blacklisted from all government and academic jobs, a situation that led him to open a bookshop he has now run for 17 years.

Asked if he regrets handing himself in when many others escaped overseas, Liu replies emphatically, “Never. I am more convinced than ever it was the right decision. If I had escaped most likely I could never have come back to China, even now. At least I can still play some role and do something in Beijing. After jail, we didn’t have to hide.”

Despite the failure of the movement and an intervening 20 years that have seen the massacre largely wiped from China’s memory, both Liu and Zheng remain devoted to the ideals of that time. While acknowledging mistakes were made and opportunities missed by the students, neither believe this changes the essential rightness of what they were fighting for, nor reduces the Government’s culpability for the bloodshed. “Can you criticise the students?” Zheng asks rhetorically. “Should they have given up just because martial law was declared? At that time people thought, ‘We are making a mild claim. We are patriotic. We just want reform, we just want to reduce corruption.’ How can any government not recognise that?”

June 4, 2009, 4:36 PM
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