Remembering the Tiananmen massacre


Twenty-three years after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, Chinese authorities continue to suppress the memory of it

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China has detained political activists and placed others under increased surveillance in cities around the country to prevent them from marking the anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square on Monday.

Hundreds died when the Communist Party used the army to crush pro-democracy protests in 1989. On Sunday, the US called on China to stop harassing those who took part in the Tiananmen protests and their families.

But the Communist Party still tries to suppress any mention of the killings.

"Long live democracy," shouts Mei Chongbiao, his fist in the air. "Down with dictatorship."

The 73-year-old and a few of his friends staged their tiny protest a week ago, then posted footage of it on the internet.

Start Quote

If no-one talks about it, people will forget about the event”

End Quote Mei Zuheng Son of Mei Chongbiao

Speaking by telephone, Mr Mei told us he had witnessed the Tiananmen massacre when he was a fruit-seller in Beijing 23 years ago. He had kept silent for years to protect his own family, but had now decided to speak out.

He staged his protest in a park in the province of Guizhou, in the far south-west of China.

Nestled in a valley in some beautiful green hills, the park is full of families strolling leisurely, old men seated at tables playing cards, and musicians playing mournful tunes by a lake dotted with lily pads and lotus flowers.

From a pavilion on a hilltop in the park, you can look out over the fast-rising office towers and apartment blocks of Guiyang, a city of more than three million.

Public denunciation

China's Communist Party goes to great lengths to prevent any mention of the Tiananmen massacre - events to commemorate it are suppressed. Mei Chongbiao's was a rare public denunciation of Communist-rule in China.

So we took the three-hour flight from Beijing to Guiyang to meet Mr Mei.

His home is modest flat up a grubby alley lined with vegetable stalls. But when we got there, his 32-year-old son Mei Zuheng, who is disabled having lost a leg in a road accident when he was a child, told us we were too late.

Students protesting in Tiananmen Square, May 1989 Students on Tiananmen Square 23 years ago were dispersed with tanks and bullets

The police had raided the flat just after we spoke to his father on the phone. They had ransacked the apartment, strewing papers everywhere, then taken his parents away, along with their computer and any literature they found about the Tiananmen massacre.

Mei Zuheng said the police had told him his father had not committed any crime, but was against the Communist Party and had to be investigated.

"My father saw what happened in 1989, he saw the killings of innocent people. He was scared. He had two young sons and his wife to look after," he explained.

"But now my brother and I have grown up. He felt as a Chinese, he should tell people what he saw. What he can do is limited, but if no-one talks about it, people will forget about the event. The official media never mentions it.

Start Quote

We think with freedom and democracy, people can lead better lives... Without them we'll just be controlled and cheated by the powerful”

End Quote Xiong Canfeng

"Only political reform cannot solve China's problems. Corruption is pervasive. Officials big and small are corrupt," Mei Zuheng added.

"China is like an apple that's rotten inside. On the surface, you see little. People think the apple is still edible. But it is not," he told us. "Our whole system needs changing or we'll never have human rights."

Xiong Canfeng's husband was detained along with Mei Chongbiao last week.

She showed us the small camera on which she had filmed the protest in the park.

The police had demanded she hand the camera over. But she had hidden it, hoping people outside China would see the images.

They had threatened that if she did not co-operate, her son would never get a job once he left university.

"They mean what they said. They can certainly do it," she told us.

"I support my son's education by selling vegetables. Once they smashed my stall and later promised to pay 20,000 yuan ($3,140, £2,043) as compensation. But now they are saying they won't pay me."

"We want change," she said. "We think with freedom and democracy, people can lead better lives. Without them we'll just be controlled and cheated by the powerful."

Leadership change
Zhang Xianling holds a photo of her late son, Wang Nan, 28 May 2012 Zhang Xianling is not optimistic that the change her son fought for would happen

In 1989, hundreds were gunned down as they called for greater political freedom and an end to corruption in China, issues that are still pressing today.

The last Communist leaders who were in power then are due to retire later this year when China undergoes its once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle. So will the incoming leaders be prepared to do things differently?

Zhang Xianling's son Wang Nan was 19 when he was killed at Tiananmen. She has little faith that China's new generation of leaders will bring any new approach.

"Changing our leaders is unlikely to make any difference," she said ahead of this anniversary. "Our hope things will change is just a beautiful, distant desire."

And in Guiyang, there is no sign that the Communist Party is prepared to rethink things.

Just after they spoke to us, Mei Chongbiao's son and Xiong Canfeng, who had hidden the film, were both detained by police.

Rather than address Tiananmen and the issues that caused it, China's leaders continue to suppress even the memory of the massacre.

Damian Grammaticas Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This is exactly what i'm talking about, i can read BBC in China and comment as much as I want just like you guys in the UK. but whenever i comment here, people say i'm a ccp agent, I can only rofl :) what a brainwash, applause

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    To read some of the posts here, it's so sad how the Chinese Gov't successfully of suppress of her people. If you don't want the western freedom, you cannot read the BBC's news blog here freely, do you know what is the meaning of freedom?
    I followed the news daily and cried every time I read the newspaper 23 years ago in HK, do you think the journalists in HK lied to us every day too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I don't understand how anyone could possibly defend the Chinese government's actions on that day. If you accepted that the event happened, and that civilians died tragically (the number is irrelevant), then it should June 4th should be considered a day of mourning
    Comparing China's actions to the misdeeds of other countries is irrelevant in this argument. To take the life of a fellow human being is always wrong, no matter the situation or any utilitarian arguments justifying it. Human right abuses are to be condemned whenever and wherever it occurs: Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, and in China too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    We chinese do no not need your "freedom" End of story, what we have now is true frredom. free from western invaders, free from foreign occupation! My goverment can now do what we see fit without your nose!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    @ Zou Yuan, Chong Yue, it is sad to see apparently intelligent people act as stooges for a government that murdered its own people. Everyone knows what happened during that time except the Chinese themselves. Well, the Beijing people know. I was there a few months later. Everyone knew. Everyone still knows, except you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    To Ancalgon

    I am not sure how blind you are, but I saw no shooting scene at all in the video you mentioned. Plus, the camera was at least 100 meters far from the square.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    To Chong Yue,

    If you have access, look for Tiananmen Square, 1989 BBC report on YouTube, and tell me that while the Chinese army is shooting into the crowd and the journalist is ducking bullets if they were lying or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I'm also curious about why BBC lied in 1989 about what happened in Tiananmen Square. There was no bloodshed in the square at all, though there was elsewhere. For those who understand chinese and recognize Liu Xiaobo, please watch this video on Youtube: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I am appalled at some of the comments on here; the freedom of information act passed in England is better than the complete lack of information in China. I read a post a few weeks ago which read something like, "do you see what’s happening behind 10 downing street?". If I want to know anything, I go to my local MP and request the information, they will then get back to me in days or weeks with the information requested 99.9% of the time. Now if you were to try this in China, the local MP would probably send a group of thugs to beat you. This is the different between Democracy and Communism.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    It is the height of hypocricy for BBC to criticize the Chinese government's censorship when it engages in exactly the same thing when it suits its own purposes. Where is that Balen Report BBC, you know, the one you commissioned yourself at public/ratepayer expense and then used ratepayer money to fight a court battle to keep it from being released to the public? What are you hiding BBC, what does it say that you are so scared will be revealed? When we don't know, we naturally suspect the worst. And this is just one example. People who live in glass houses BBC! Clean up your own act first.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Not Chinese but living in China its not considered a big deal, Some people do talk about it but still support the system the pressure may hopefully stop it happening again. World war two was a much greater loss but people buy Japanese cars and work for Japanese company's, they just get on with survival. Its sad that the mans son lost his leg, Chinese do a much better job of killing and losing limbs themselves than any government can. A major problem in China is road safety and trauma care no care flight in China the country is under policed not over. Look forward to the future not backward

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    While Tienanmen Square is focal point for June 4, 1989, most of the casualties occurred outside the square - e.g. Shanghai, Chengdu & Guangzhou. While students initiated the push for greater freedom, cause was taken up by broad section of society. In China, there was no mention of June 4th; no comments on Weibo. China could have done better, made compassionate statements, showed the world its humanity…BUT then again: MOST COUNTRIES COULD DO BETTER. What country has not committed atrocities, killed innocents & maimed others.
    Is China black; US snow white?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    US: We encourage Chinese Govt to release those still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstrations; to provide full public account of those killed - detained or missing; & to end continued harassment. Human Rights Watch estimates about 12 Chinese are still imprisoned over the June 1989 protests. US: We renew our call for China to protect universal human rights; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest.
    ET TU, US!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    US statement came as pro-democracy activists marked 23 years since Chinese soldiers followed orders to open fire on unarmed civilians at & near Tiananmen Square. Official Chinese Govt figures put the dead at 241, including soldiers, with 7,000 injured.
    US State Dept issued its remarks on the eve of the anniversary, saying US "joins the international community in remembering the tragic loss of innocent lives." (I regret for the loss in China while adding: How dare the US point a finger at any other country!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    In the 1800's western powers used the idea "Chinese people are different" to excuse acts of domination and repression; now the Chinese Communist Party uses the same excuse to excuse repressing Chinese people. "Do not interfere in Chinese internal affairs" means "let us beat up Chinese people however we want, because it is OK if other Chinese people do it." The Chinese Communist Party has become the capitalist dictatorship its founders once fought to prevent. When the Communist party goes out, China will be free. We need to get past details like Tibet and get to the heart: Free China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    China expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with US statement urging China to free protesters imprisoned after 1989 Tiananmen Square. At a daily Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing, Spokesman Liu Weimin accused US Govt of baseless allegations & interfering with Chinese internal affairs.
    US action probably would have been more acceptable, if it had also referred to the massive killing in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan…& torture at Guantanamo Bay


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