Tiananmen Square: 23 Years Later

Today marked the 23rd anniversary of the military crackdown on protesters in Beijing, and, as usual, the government kept a tight rein on online speech, the media, and political dissidents and activists. More surprising was the fact that the financial markets also seemed to play a role in marking the anniversary, with the Shanghai stock index falling precisely 64.89 points.

A report in the Wall Street Journal noted this bizarre coincidence while also noting that the anniversary comes at a time of political and economic instability in China:

The Chinese are trying to transform their economy from one reliant on exports and massive internal investment into one supported by consumer spending. They’re trying to do this amid rampant signs the economy is slowing down, and at the same time as they complete a once-a-decade transfer of leadership within the Communist Party. The last thing they want is focus on something like Tiananmen.

It’s proving impossible. The Chinese are buzzing over todays’ 64.89 point drop in the Shanghai Composite Index. In China, 64 is like 9/11 in the U.S., because June 4, 1989, is the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It also happens to be today’s date.

The Chinese responded predictably, banning any online searches or references to the Shanghai, or to Tiananmen or the massacre. No matter. The people found ways around the ban, quoting a 9th Century poet, for example, or arranging candles in a 6 and 4. Or just writing “say nothing,” as one person did. “Everyone understands.”

The issues of human rights, freedom, and crashing economies aren’t new, but they aren’t usually all found within the world’s second-largest economy, and how China deals with them will have quite an effect on the rest of the world.

On the eve of the anniversary, the U.S. State Department issued a statement calling for the release of those still imprisoned from the 1989 protests. Duihua, a San Francisco-based organization that tracks Chinese political prisoners, says that fewer than 12 prisoners remain in jail from 1989. In response to the U.S. government statement, China condemned the U.S. for interfering in Chinese affairs. From CNN:

“The U.S. side has been ignoring the facts and issuing such statements year after year, making baseless accusations against the Chinese government and arbitrarily interfering with China’s internal affairs. The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to such acts,” he said.

The U.S. statement came as pro-democracy activists marked 23 years since Chinese soldiers followed orders to open fire on unnarmed civilians near Tiananmen Square.

Official Chinese government figures put the number of dead at 241, including soldiers, with 7,000 injured. Rights group say the number of dead was likely to be in the thousands.

A number of dramatic images from Tiananmen Square protests and the aftermath of the crackdown have been made available to mark the anniversary, including slideshows from the Atlantic and Time. In addition, Shanghaiist posted never-before-seen photos from blogger Zola Zhou, who says he got them from the wife of a soldier in Beijing who he met on a train.

While June 4th cannot be officially marked on mainland China, in Hong Kong the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park was the largest since 1989 with tens of thousands in attendance. From Bloomberg:

Demonstrators with megaphones competed with each other for the attention of the crowds who swirled around them in Victoria Park, vowing not to forget the crackdown, in which hundreds of protesters were killed. Some wore shirts bearing the image of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo while others chanted demands that the Chinese leaders who sent troops to break up the protests in 1989 be held accountable.

“This is my first time to see so many people commemorate the dead in Tiananmen,” said Ben Liu, a 32-year-old software engineer from Shanghai who attended yesterday evening’s protest on the last day of a business trip to Hong Kong. “I wish someday we could do the same in China to voice our emotions.”

The South China Morning Post published a video of the Hong Kong vigil:

Read more about the censorship of June 4-related terms online via CDT, NPR, the New York Times, and Gawker. Read more about the 1989 protests and June 4th via CDT, including reposting of original news reports from throughout the spring of 1989.

June 4, 2012 11:14 PM
Posted By: