China is still trying to wipe the memory of the violent Tiananmen Square protests after 30 years
Thirty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party deployed military forces to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to violently suppress a pro-liberty movement made up largely of students.
Today, they continue to try and pretend it never happened.
As a young man, I spent several of my teenage years as an expatriate in the People’s Republic of China, traveling the vast nation and seeing how people lived from one end of the country to the other. This ranged from witnessing the economic and industrial booms to cultural events and even violent government action against its own citizens.
One thing that always got to me was the “June 4th Incident,” what we in the West call the Tiananmen Square Massacre, where hundreds -if not thousands- of pro-liberty Chinese were killed by the party in a violent crackdown.
The part that “got to me” wasn’t that it happened- it was that the local population either didn’t know about it, sheepishly avoided talking about it or demanded you change the subject. This wasn’t without good reason- simply talking about the massacre could land a person in prison.
That was nearly fifteen years ago. Now, thirty years after the massacre itself, the CCP is still cracking down on what happened during the June 4th Incident.
According to Newsweek, the CCP preemptively scrubbed thousands of social media posts leading up to the anniversary, and the “Great Firewall” of Chinese internet censorship plays a serious role in ensuring that the June 4th Incident stays a relatively quiet matter- at least on the Chinese mainland.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has denounced U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following his statements commemorating the 30th anniversary of the massacre.
In his statements, Pompeo demanded that the Chinese Communist Party tell the truth about the June 4th Incident, to include the release of complete casualty counts.
Pompeo went on to praise the “heroic protest movement” that was violently quelled after “the Chinese Communist Party leadership sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to violently repress peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, human rights, and an end to rampant corruption.”
Speaking of tanks, there was always one uniting figure consistently brought up by the few Chinese locals willing to talk about the incident: “Tǎnkè rén,” or “Tank Man.”
An unknown individual to this day, “Tank Man” is a silent, faceless hero to people around the world. Armed with shopping bags and dressed as if he was coming home from work, “Tank Man” placed himself between a column of People’s Liberation Army tanks in an effort to keep them from going down a Beijing street.
When the tank would move one way, Tank Man would shuffle to block its path. When the tank lurched forward, Tank Man would dig in. Eventually, the unknown rebel jumped atop the tank and spoke to the crew before he was whisked away by unidentified individuals, never to be seen again.
While the man’s fate is uncertain, his actions were immortalized, thanks to film smuggled out the country and presented to a worldwide audience. In China, the photo is practically non-existent, though some managed to obtain video or still images.
As China continues to suppress the sins of its past and doubles down on citizen surveillance and Orwellian “social credit” systems, it seems the lessons of June 4th were lost on many within the CCP- at least for now. The internet is a powerful weapon against tyranny and authoritarianism, and much like the Great Wall of China could not hold, neither will the Great Firewall of Chinese Censorship.
In China, history may be written in pencil, but the rest of the world has carved the image of Tank Man in stone- he and many like him will never be forgotten.
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