Comprehension exercise 15…
China’s democratic dream was snuffed out as night fell on June 3, 1989. In mid-April, thousands of idealistic university students had gathered in the heart of Beijing to mourn the passing of an admired Communist Party official who had championed liberalizing reforms. In the weeks that followed, their vigil turned into a much larger protest for greater political freedoms. Students erected a statue of foam and papier-mâché dubbed the “Goddess of Democracy” not far from the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong that hangs in the square. At their peak, the sit-ins and protests drew perhaps over a million people.
But they also drew the ire and terror of a Communist Party cabal in power that feared its grip slipping. Tanks rolled in. Dissenters were gunned down. By the end of June 4, the protests had been violently dispersed, the square was cleared, the statue destroyed. No one knows how many were killed by Chinese security forces, but estimates range from the hundreds to the thousands.
“There was blood and brain matter all over the ground,” Dong Shengkun, a Beijing factory worker who spent 17 years in prison for participating in the protests, told my colleague Anna Fifield. “There were dead people lying in the streets. Those who survived got up and helped the injured back indoors or into the alleys. . . . It was a massacre. No one could have imagined our army would do such a thing to their own people.”
Since the events at Tiananmen Square, the world has witnessed worse acts of state-sponsored violence, more brazen scenes of bloody regime-backed repression. But what happened 30 years ago in Beijing remains one of those seminal pivots in global history, the moment when the political fate of the world’s most populous nation turned in a sharp and brutal direction.
Part of what makes the memory of Tiananmen so important is the fragility of that memory itself. After a crackdown on a generation of reform-minded students and pro-democracy protesters, China’s political leadership tried to expunge the legacy of this dissent from public consciousness. They have been largely successful, ensuring references to the protests and massacres do not appear in local media, school textbooks or even Internet searches. Hundreds of millions of people in the country, to this day, have no knowledge of what happened.
To their people, the Communist Party leaders insisted that ambitious economic growth would be impossible were it not for the supreme authority of the one-party state. By the mid-1990s, the United States and its democratic allies had also accepted that Faustian bargain. [Sourced from Washington Post Worldview]
Q1. Why had the students gathered in the open space in the heart Beijing initially? How did their voice change in the next few days?
Q2. How did the Communist Party of China deal with the protesters? What was the consequence?
Q3. How did Dong Shengkun describe his first-hand experience?
Q4. Looking back, how do political scientists describe the crack-down?
Q5. How have the Chinese authorities managed to erase the events of Tiananmen Square from public memory?
Answers will be posted on or before June 6.
Q1. The students, driven by their convictions, had gathered in the open space to mourn the death of a liberal Communist leader whom they adored.
The congregation swelled swiftly in numbers as the students’ demands became more strident, and their tone more belligerent.
Q2. The Communist Party bosses warned the students to disperse and return to their class rooms. When the students defied the official orders, the authorities unleashed severe military force on them to make them fall in line with the government diktats. The iron-fisted approach resulted in scores of deaths and injuries.
Q3. For Dong Shengkun, it was a nerve-wrecking experience to see so many dead bodies of students scattered in the streets. Some injured students were being dragged into the side alleys, so that they get some care. On the whole, it was a ghastly sight.
Q4. Political scientists agree that such a crack-down left deep scars n the students and the general public. It changed the attitude of the citizens towards their government. The ramifications of the massacre are felt even today.
Q5. The Chinese government has tried every possible means to make sure the public forget the military crack-down in the Tiananmen Square and its aftermath. The incident has been blacked out of history books, internet search engines, and official websites. No official ever mentions this incident in public.