Tiananmen, 1989 – a need for dialogue 20 years later
The Chinese government still attempts to restrict public discussion in China about the events surrounding the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Its real reasons for doing so can only be guessed at – its official stance on the matter is vague and unsubstantiated. However, the fact that it does at all is highly important.
The “Tiananmen Mothers”, a brave group of campaigners, have long called for an open discussion of and investigation into the circumstances concerning the death of those who were killed 20 years ago. They have done this despite the harrassment many of their members have received from the Chinese authorities. Last week they issued a fresh public statement, calling for an investigation.
Tiananmen Mothers: Public Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the June Fourth Massacre
This year is the 20th anniversary of the June Fourth Massacre. As a group of Chinese citizens who have lost loved ones in this tragedy, and with profound grief buried in our hearts, we are releasing the following statement to our countrymen at home and abroad, and to all righteous people of good conscience worldwide:
1. Between June 3 and June 4, 1989, a large-scale massacre of peaceful demonstrators and city residents, ordered by the government and carried out by the army, took place in China’s capital, Beijing. Thousands of civilians were injured and lost their lives in the bloodbath. Chiefly responsible for this bloody tragedy are: former Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Deng Xiaoping; former Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Li Peng; former President of the People’s Republic of China, Yang Shangkun; former Mayor of Beijing, Chen Xitong; and former Beijing Municipal Party Committee Secretary, Li Ximing. Some of them have already passed away. Some of them have stepped down. But Li Peng, who is still alive, took part in decision-making on the highest level that led to this massacre and was, moreover, directly in charge of carrying it out. It was the martial law that Li Peng signed as the country’s Premier that directly led to the large-scale massacre of the capital’s peaceful residents by the special martial law emergency troops.
As everyone knows, there was no armed rebellion or rioting in the Beijing district between April and June 1989, and yet the government mobilized several hundred thousand troops to enter the city and massacre peaceful demonstrators and residents—an action that was clearly an illegal use of the country’s armed forces. Based on the provisions against violation of the citizens’ personal freedoms in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China; based on the fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person reaffirmed by the Charter of the United Nations; and in accordance with the international human rights standards confirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other United Nations conventions, we believe that this military action taken by the government authorities not only severely violates our nation’s constitution and the international commitments it has made as a sovereign state to safeguard humanity, but that its persistent contempt for human rights and civil liberties constitutes an outrage against humanity.
In the recently published memoir based on audiotapes recorded by the former General Secretary of the CPC, Zhao Ziyang, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, he says that he “didn’t want to be a General Secretary who opens fire on the people.” This shows that at the time Zhao differed in opinion from Deng and Li on how to handle the student movement, on whether to pursue a peaceful or a military solution. In the end, Zhao went down in defeat.
Nowadays, different people from various levels of society have all kinds of interpretations of this tragedy. But the basic facts of what happened at that time have not changed. The nature of this tragedy has not changed either. It remains a bloody massacre of peaceful civilians.
2. As a community of victims of the June Fourth tragedy, we have devoted all our energy and spared no effort during the past twenty years to, one by one, look for every single person who died in the massacre. As of this day, we have found 195 people. We have already publicly released lists of names four times: 96 individuals in 1994, 155 individuals in 1999, 185 individuals in 2004, 195 individuals in 2009. The number of people we have uncovered thus far cannot be either the majority or the total number of victims. To those victims whom we have not yet found, we offer our heartfelt apologies and remorse. We are especially troubled knowing that for twenty years their relatives have been suffering in torment, pain, and solitude, unable to receive humanitarian care and assistance from people at home and from overseas.
We hereby earnestly appeal to all those who have information about the tragedy: Please, provide us with clues about the victims, even if they be just the slightest traces of clues. Do not let a temporary oversight result in a lifetime of regret.
3. It has been almost twenty years since the June Fourth Massacre. During the first few years following the massacre, Secretary General of the CPC Jiang Zemin categorically declared: “If we had not taken absolute measures at the time, we would not have the stability we enjoy today. A bad thing has turned out to be good.” It is now more than ten years later, and today’s top leaders have stopped mentioning the words “June Fourth,” classifying ”June Fourth” as a taboo topic. That is to say, today’s China is monopolized by a social stratum born of the conspiracy between capital and power-based privilege. They control all the national resources and allocate the entire nation’s opportunities and lifelines. They only care for profit, and categorically refuse to discuss “June Fourth.” Through twenty years of cover-up and deceit, the government authorities have turned the entire society into an exquisitely beautiful empty shell filled with ostentation, indifference, instant gratification, and depravity, and devoid of fairness, justice, honesty, shame, reverence, remorse, tolerance, responsibility, compassion, and affection . . . All this has distorted the history of June Fourth beyond recognition, to the point that it has become a blank.
There is only one core matter the CPC cares to uphold, and that is its determination not to lose absolute power. They can confidently talk about human rights, freedom, democracy, and legal institutions, but, like illusionists, they are only switching bait, while taking undeserved credit. As for the western democratic system, namely the parliamentary democracy and multi-party competition adopted by most states, they are not prepared to make even the smallest concession. They will especially never let the political opposition around them challenge the power of the Communist Party. For the past twenty years, Chinese leaders, from the second generation to the third and now to the fourth, have grown increasingly confident in this solid “hidden rule,” and more unshakable than ever. The severe purge of the signers of Charter 08, issued by civil society last year, is but a loathsome example.
Over the past twenty years, the June Fourth Incident has become the watershed of China’s contemporary history and politics. Will control be loosened or tightened? The people are waiting to see.
4. On the basis of the above considerations, we have repeatedly sent letters to the National People’s Congress in the course of the past ten and some years to express the following views:
The bloody 1989 Tiananmen tragedy was not a result of the government’s inappropriate action, but the government’s crime against the people. Consequently, the June Fourth Incident must be re-evaluated. The issue of the June Fourth legacy cannot be handled according to the will of individual leaders, regardless of who they may be, and it cannot be handled in the manner of the so-called “rehabilitations” and “exonerations” that followed each successive political movement in the past.
To this end, we are reiterating the following three demands:
1. That the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress form a dedicated June Fourth investigation committee and conduct an independent and fair investigation on the entire incident, and that it furthermore make public the results of the investigation to the entire nation, including the names and numbers of those who died in the incident;
2. That the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress instruct the departments in charge to issue individual explanations to the relatives of each deceased person in accordance with the statutory procedures; the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress should also draft and adopt a “June Fourth Incident Victim Compensation Bill” and give the victims and their relatives appropriate compensation in accordance with the law;
3. That the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress order the Procuratorial Bureau to file the case and investigate the June Fourth tragedy, and to affix legal responsibility and prosecute those responsible in accordance with the statutory procedures.
The above can be summarized in three words: Truth, Compensation, Accountability. The reason we did not mention “rehabilitation” of June Fourth victims in our three demands is because as a citizen group, we have learned through painful experience: we want justice for the dead, but we do not beg those in power. The so-called “rehabilitation” and “exoneration” used by the Communist authorities in the past are merely a throwback to the methods of the imperial era. For several decades the CPC has repeatedly carried out political campaigns and purges, followed by “rehabilitation” and “exoneration,” managing to get those who had been “rehabilitated” to later even thank the “brilliant” and “mighty” CPC, as though they were bowing to the imperial throne. For several decades, the common people have been paying an enormous price for this kind of hypocrisy of the authorities and for their own ignorance. How can we let this type of history go on! We have come to the realization that we must rely on ourselves to fight for and protect the rights and dignity that belong to us, as well as for the rights and dignity of our dead relatives. We cannot depend on the charity of others.
5. For the fair and reasonable solution of the June Fourth issue, we have always believed that we must uphold the principles of peace and rationality and follow the tracks of democracy and rule of law. The National People’s Congress should follow legal procedures and make a special motion to hand the June Fourth issue to the General Assembly for discussion and deliberation, and come to a decision on matters concerned. Using one sentence to summarize this position: Use legal means to resolve political problems. We believe that using legislation and judicial procedures is the only way to solve the issue of June Fourth. However, this matter cannot be resolved in a day.
To break the impasse in resolving the June Fourth Incident, and so that the matter can develop positively and smoothly, we suggested a guideline in 2006: Tackle simple problems first, then gradually move on to harder questions. Following this guideline, the issues on which consensus cannot be reached easily because of serious differences of opinion can be set aside temporarily, and the issues involving the basic rights of the victims and their personal interests be resolved first. These issues include: 1) removing all monitoring of and personal restrictions imposed on the “June Fourth” victims and their families; 2) allowing families of the dead to openly mourn their loved ones; 3) ending interceptions and seizures of domestic and international humanitarian aid donations, and returning all the aid money that has been frozen; 4) having government departments in charge, in the spirit of humanitarianism, help the victims who are living in straitened circumstances find employment and guarantee them a basic livelihood, without attaching any political conditions to the assistance; 5) eliminating political discrimination against the disabled victims of “June Fourth” and treating them the same as all other disabled individuals in matters such as communal participation, social safeguards, etc. The settlement of the aforementioned issues ultimately depends on the soundness of the entire legal process.
6. Since 1997, we have been imploring the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to change its attitude of ignoring public opinion and turning a deaf ear to popular demand, and to engage in a direct, sincere dialogue about the problems of the June Fourth victims with their families. On the 10th anniversary of June Fourth, we formed the “June Fourth Victims Dialogue Group” and put forth an appeal for a just and impartial resolution of the June Fourth issue by way of negotiation and dialogue based on democratic principles and rule of law. In 2006, we put forth that this should be an open dialogue among equals, without preconditions, and that we do not endorse the so-called “administrative resolutions” and private settlements that violate the principles of the rule of law. In 2008, we specifically suggested to the government to establish a communication mechanism. In an open letter titled “An Appeal from the Tiananmen Mothers to the Government: Set a Timetable for Dialogue on the June Fourth Massacre,” we explicitly pointed out:
The world has entered the age of dialogue, yet mainland China remains behind, stagnant, in the age of resistance. This embarrassing and intolerable situation, which no one is willing to face, must end as soon as possible. We note that the Chinese government advocates the use of dialogue to solve differences and disputes in international affairs. We therefore have even stronger ground for our request that the government solve domestic differences and disputes through a similar method. If China, with its historical tradition of despotic rule, can strive to replace hostility with dialogue, it would benefit the entire nation and be a blessing to all people. As this country enters into more dialogue, it will manifest more civility and legal order and less ignorance and despotism. Dialogue should not lead society into opposition and hatred, but rather, into tolerance and reconciliation. Using dialogue to solve the June Fourth issue is the only way to achieve social reconciliation.
We believe that the time for dialogue is gradually ripening and that the government leaders should facilitate the dialogue about the June Fourth Incident by tolerantly keeping an open mind and daring to accept the consequences.
7. In the course of the past twenty years, the manner in which western democratic countries dealt with China’s June Fourth Massacre was at first sanctions and boycott, but later became “private” negotiations with Chinese leaders. During the most recent few years, as China’s economy boomed and its role on the international stage grew in importance, many countries, especially some dominant nations, have been seeking China’s support in dealing with important global issues, including its support in extricating themselves from the current financial crisis. Under these circumstances, there have also been subtle shifts in their attitude towards the June Fourth Incident.
During the past twenty years, we have not given up a single opportunity, despite facing the dangers of intimidation and oppression by the authorities, to turn to the overseas media without hesitation and keep talking, keep writing, to do all we can to reveal the truth about the June Fourth Massacre to the world, to appeal to the international community to show concern for the victims of the tragedy and their relatives, and to take practical action to pressure the Chinese government into fulfilling [its commitment] to universal human values. This type of advocacy has had positive effects in the past.
Still, the past 20 years have been very long and challenging for those of us who have suffered the loss of loved ones. As the time went on and seasons gradually changed, things remain but people are no longer the same. What was once the truth that couldn’t be clearer has become so blurred as to be almost turned upside down. Utilitarianism and pragmatism have replaced the idealism and passion of former days. China is not getting closer to freedom, democracy, and human rights, but rather drifting farther away. We deeply regret that the Chinese people have once again missed a historical opportunity for peaceful transformation in the course towards democracy. Why is China still bitterly struggling in this age-old morass?
The Chinese version of the statement is available here.
The Chinese government, however, does not want dialogue at the moment. Various outspoken members of Chinese society have been asked to leave Beijing or placed under house arrest, as this and other reports indicate. There has been increased disruption of online services and access to various websites in the last few days. Danwei has provided analysis on some of this, which further suggests that at least some of the disruption is planned given the 4th June anniversary.
The Chinese government does not have a monopoly on “truth”, and whilst it may have its own opinion on events of June 1989 it has no right to tell everyone else to follow that line. Indeed, Professor Cui Weiping (Beijing Film Academy) believes there is a real need to discuss the subject more than is officially allowed. Her original comments can be found on her blog. The translated version is available here.
With 20 years having elapsed since all those people were killed in Beijing, I don’t see what the justifiable reasons are for the government continuing to not just avoid talking about but also try to suppress open, public discussion of this subject. I salute all of those people who doggedly push for the authorities to change their position and allow for the full, open discourse that the victims deserve.
I’ll finish with a comment from the BBC’s John Simpson.
After all this time, being open and honest about what happened that night in Chang’an Avenue and Tiananmen Square will not put Chinese society in danger.
On the contrary, it would help China develop into a country which is at ease with itself and its past.
As many as 150,000 people rallied in Hong Kong on 4th June to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen killings. This was probably the largest ever rally in the city for a 4th June anniversary, and I wanted to share this amazing picture with all of you.
It’s a real shame that this photograph was not taken in Beijing. Maybe some day we will be able to see similar commemorative events, though we cannot be sure when that might be. However, the attendance of Hongkongese of all ages is encouraging and suggests that even if it will be a long time until the Chinese government allows free discussion of the protests and subsequent killings, let alone make an apology, Hong Kong’s people will help keep the memory alive.
Interestingly the recent publication of Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs (Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang), as I discussed previously, may have helped increase interest.
Throngs of men, women and children gathered at a park here on Thursday evening for an enormous candlelight vigil to mark the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings.
The organizers said that 150,000 people joined the vigil, tying the record set by the first anniversary vigil in 1990 and dwarfing every vigil held since then. The police estimated the crowd at 62,800, their largest estimate for any vigil except in 1990, which they put at 80,000.
Even before the vigil began at 8 p.m., the tens of thousands of people assembled represented the largest crowd for the annual event here in recent years. The only crowd since the early 1990s that came remotely close was in 2004, when the fifteenth anniversary of the military crackdown coincided with a surge in pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong.
Throughout the park, banners in Chinese demanded the vindication of the students and other Beijing residents who perished during the Chinese government crackdown against the protesters. There were people of all ages, from grey-haired retirees to young children whose parents accompanied them to explain why they felt so deeply about an event that took place before they were born.
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