Tomorrow (June 4th) is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. To re-cap, sensing the feelings of deep, radical change that were sweeping the Communist world in 1989, some 100,000 Chinese students gathered in Tiananmen Square in April of 1989, protesting for the continuation of market and political reforms that had been taking place under the leadership of Hu Yaobang, a pro-market, pro-democracy official who had just died. The protests widened across the country, but the gathering in Beijing captured world attention.
The Chinese government declared martial law, and made several attempts to send troops into the square, all of them met with resistance by both the students and the Beijing populace. Some of the most powerful images from Tiananmen Square include the Chinese goddess of democracy statue, and, of course, the lone man standing against the line of tanks. The video of him, repeatedly moving to line himself up with the tanks as they tried to drive around him is absolutely riveting. Finally, on the night of June 3-4, armored personnel carriers and armed troops surrounded and entered the square, firing and killing indiscriminately.
The estimate of the number of those killed is varied, as one might expect. The official Chinese government number is a paltry 241. More reliable estimates place the death toll any where from 1000 to 7000. The actual number, like the fate of that lone man, will never be known. However, we should bear in mind, as this article by Claudia Rosett states, "the high-end estimate of the number killed in the Tiananmen uprising is dwarfed many times over by the millions of Chinese who died under the horrific communist experiment of Chairman Mao: forcibly collectivized, rusticated, starved, executed outright or dispatched to the torments of China's prison camps, the laogai."
Some of the reactions to the massacre have been disturbing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein self-righteously compared the massacre to the shootings of 4 students at Kent State in 1970, a statement which is perhaps one of the most egregious examples of moral equivalency.Charles Freeman, who was recently tapped as President Obama's head of the National Council of Intelligence (nomination subsequently withdrawn), said in 2006 that the" truly unforgivable mistake" the Chinese authorities made at Tiananmen was not the brutal massacre of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators, but rather "the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." The Chinese communists were not "rash," but rather "overly cautious." That's right--you're overly cautious if you shoot down peaceful demonstrators.
Recently Secretary of State Clinton went out of her way to let China know that the United States will not let human rights concerns hinder our cooperation with China. Maybe that's how diplomacy is supposed to work, maybe that's the kind of treacle that the State Department has to spit out in order for the world to keep turning. I hope not. What happened 20 years ago, where an oppressed populace stood up for democracy and freedom, is too important to forget.
I'm a physician (OBGYN), late 40's, living in a small town in northern Louisiana. It's a big change, coming from the Big Easy, but then again, my life has been under considerable remodeling as of late. I am married to a beautiful Russian artist, who was nice enough to follow me on this adventure.