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We Remember: Tiananmen Square Massacre

By Annunthra Rangan

Article: 24/ 2024

As the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square tragedy has approached today, the sombre narrative of repression and remembrance persists. China has persistently suppressed any recollection of the Tiananmen Square killings. 

In May 1989, students in Beijing gathered peacefully at Tiananmen Square, advocating for increased political reforms and democratic institutions to address corruption within the Communist Party. They orchestrated large-scale demonstrations to press their demands. However, the government perceived this movement as a challenge to its authority and responded with severe repression. To end the prolonged protests and reinforce Communist rule, the government deployed approximately 180,000 troops and armed police. Approximately 3,000 students were killed in the violent crackdown. This massacre drew widespread condemnation from the international community, but the Chinese Communist government remained unresponsive to the criticism. These forces, equipped with tanks and armoured vehicles, advanced towards Tiananmen Square, firing into the crowds as they proceeded. In 2021, three former leaders of the group that organised the Tiananmen Square vigil, including activist Chow Hang-tung, were charged with subversion under a national security law imposed by Beijing, leading to the group's disbandment. Despite this, some residents continue to commemorate the event privately, such as by running 6.4 kilometres on June 4 and sharing related content on social media. 

Recently, city authorities have intensified efforts to eliminate reminders of the 1989 crackdown. Multiple pro-democracy activists reported that police had inquired about their plans for the anniversary. As China tightens control over Tiananmen Square memories in Hong Kong and the mainland, commemorative events have expanded overseas. 

The Chinese government continues to ignore calls for justice for the Tiananmen Massacre. Weakened international sanctions have emboldened Beijing to commit further human rights violations, including crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, stringent security laws in Hong Kong, repression in Tibet, and persecution of human rights defenders across China.

Since 2020, Hong Kong, the only city in China where the public was free to commemorate June 4th, has been subjected to two strict national security laws that prohibit the annual vigil, threatening arrest and imprisonment. Just before the 32nd anniversary in 2021, the Hong Kong Museum was shut down, and all exhibits were confiscated. 

Concurrently, Hong Kong authorities have aggressively curtailed free speech under the pretext of "national security." Beijing's intent to dismantle Hong Kong’s freedoms and rewrite history is exemplified by the protracted legal battles against Chow. Her resilience in the face of repression symbolises the collective determination of Hong Kongers to resist. The government's persistence in levying new charges against Chow for her efforts to commemorate those killed for peacefully advocating for freedom and democracy underscores the threat she poses to both the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities.

In recent years, Hong Kong's Tiananmen memorial event, once the largest of its kind, has been banned by the city's government amidst a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. Attempts to organise candlelit vigils have resulted in arrests under the new national security law.

Chow, an organiser of Hong Kong's Tiananmen Vigils, had previously been charged with inciting an unauthorised assembly, though initially acquitted. This decision was later overturned. Critics argue that the Chinese government aims to erase memories of the Tiananmen massacre, but despite efforts, the remembrance of the event persists. The introduction of national security laws has created a climate of fear and self-censorship in Hong Kong.

Even media outlets, such as the Christian Times newspaper, have faced restrictions. In its latest issue, it left its front page mostly blank, citing the current restrictive societal environment. The editorial highlighted the importance of honest reflection on history for future repentance and reconciliation. This year, vigils are planned in cities such as Washington DC, London, Brisbane, and Taipei, alongside an increasing number of talks, rallies, exhibitions, and plays on the topic. 

The world is highly concerned about  the escalating actions of the Chinese government, particularly in light of their continued crackdown on dissenting voices and the suppression of fundamental freedoms. The deteriorating situation in China is deeply disheartening and stresses the urgent need for international attention and condemnation.

It is imperative to understand that media censorship is not only unnecessary but also antithetical to the principles of democracy and human rights. Freedom of the press and media is a cornerstone of any democratic society, and any attempt to suppress or control it is unacceptable. The persistent intensification of such actions by China serves as a stark reminder of the importance of defending these fundamental rights and values on a global scale. It is incumbent upon the international community to speak out against such violations and to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed or silenced.

(Ms. Annunthra K is a research officer at C3S. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S.)

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