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 84.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Here are images of the Chinese armyy killing the Chinese people.

    It's the same as in Syria today. And like the Syrian government the Chinese government blamed their crimes on "terrorists" and traitors. Barbaric. Savage. China, this is your real history. This is what they don't want you to know or believe. The world watched, the world knows, the world will not forget for you. When you are free, if your government won't tell you, we will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    BTW, history proves again and again that a strong power would become strong then to be democratically, not reversed. China needs to follow the same rule. Follow the rule, China will be next US, UK, Germany, France; against the rule, China will be next Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia. So, improve economic, technological, and military capacity will be the priority in at least 20 years. However, during this process, calls of democracy is a necessary element to constrain party's unlimited power and to educate people to prepare for future movement in mind.
    Be strong first, then to be democracy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Many years ago I left that western colony in China called Hong Kong which was still under British ruled, back in those days no China man dared to protest against their white master, it's just not done.

    But now it is easy to protest against their leaders in China that they looks like them for any reason that is good for the western anti China audiences in the far west.

    "We think with freedom and democracy, people can lead better lives......"

    Under British rule in HK then it was OK without these stupid things.

    Not scared of China people, they are the same as the Hong Kongers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    What we should do is to respect any death in the incident, and look forward for future. The dead were gone, and the lived movement student leaders have fallen to be ally of Dalai Lama and other try-to-independent traitors, they are totally disgusting people in our generation's view. Westerns want to use them to make a new revolution, and history will prove it will not go through.
    China need new idea, new generation to reform, whatever peacefully or turn to be violently, but not these guys. Enough is enough, let their tales gone with wind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Perhaps one day when China is a free country where the truth is told, the government will tell its people what actually happened and why. Then again maybe not. Germany waited decades after WWII and Japan still has not told its people the truth about what their grandparents did during the war. The reaction of resentment towards them by others in Asia must puzzle them. By contrast, all feelings of resentment and mistrust in the US towards both countries is long over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    77 We in the free world are not surprised at the lies and distortions tyrannies like the Chinese Communist Party teaches its slaves instead of real history. Indoctrination into the government party line begins as soon as a child is old enough to speak. By the time he or she is old enough to thing for himself or herself the process is so complete it doesn't matter. It must be disheartening to have to ignore so many facts about the world that don't conform to what you were taught as doctrine.China as a society is doomed.Behind the mask are all the elements of failure until there's a revolution

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    America has one of the worst human rights records in the world, despite the short history of that country. The Chinese are fluffy little poodles in comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I am utterly sickened by the comments put on this site by agents of the Beijing Gang who are the most evil dictators in the world today---we are really supposed to believe TS never happened and 100s of young unarmed people were not murdered ??? Does anyone on this site believe the Chinese propaganda? And who is going to listen to tales of other atrocities , placed on this site in order to make TS murders seem OK ?
    The Beijing Clique should be kicked OUT of the civilised world, and the real Chinese people should be free. That is what the murdered students want. God bless them , rest in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    We really don't know how many people the infamous mass murderer Mao Zedong killed during his monstrous Great Leap Forward. Some say 30 million, some say much higher. He famously told Khurshchev to launch a nuclear war against the US. He said he didn't care if 500 milllion Chinese died so long as communism prevailed. He himself was a corrupt individual living in luxury while his nation starved. A sociopath, a criminal, a man China and the world is well rid of. Comparable to Hitler and Stalin in his ruthlessness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    73 I don't know how any rational person who was not educated in a totalitarian state can compare the extremism of fighting to the death to defend one's own liberty and that of their loved ones with the extremism of fascism, communism,or militant Islam that would make slaves of the entire world. I suppose I should take into account that some live in societies where it is a felony to kill an intruder who breaks into your home.Where I live that is called justifiable homocide and it's legal.Nations that fought German and Soviet tyranny only to cede sovereignty to the EU tyranny puzzle me no end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Let's stop talk about politics and politicians. Frankly they are not the perfect example of democracy and principles.
    What we want to figure out here is that have we been given two side stories about what happened 23 years ago in that square? I understand what you called extremism, but determination(what I would like to call it ) should be based on well informed facts, otherwise extremism goes to bad extremism, the Nazis, USA, etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    70"Remember it was the USA who first built the WMD. What was their intention?"

    Assuming you are talking about the atom bomb, not gas bombs used in WWI the intent was to nuke Berlin & other German cities.However, as the events of history worked out, Germany was defeated before the bombs were ready for use.Japan became the logical alternate target.The primary goal was to end the war to save American lives.A secondary benefit was that it warned the USSR not to assume the US would never hesitate to use them to defend itself.It worked.The USSR understood nuclear war with the US would be suicide

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I live in China and have absolutely no problem in accessing the BBC or any British newspaper or the American press and write this comment freely without any hindrance. I find that all the Chinese people I have spoken to are well aware of Tiananmen square. I am British and we also have a horrific history as does America , what developed country does not have past deeds that would like to be forgotten. China is changing for the better at a greater speed than any of our western countries achieved. China has taken approx 4 million people out of poverty in 30 years, more than the rest of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    What you quoted are what we called principle and determination, million miles away from extremism. You have a lot to learn about democracy. You mentioned about thermonuclear warheads. Remember it was the USA who first built the WMD. What was their intention? I guess not for test only, it was for mass killing if the USSR didnot built one as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    68 I'd hate to think UK government policy or intelligence was limited by what journalists had to say.Apologies for Chamberlain's stupidity by blaming it on the press is flimsy, a miserable excuse for a miserable man.Chamberlain was a pacifist who would not go to war under any circumstances to protect England. What irony, England and France invented Adolf Hitler when they composed the treaty of Versailles with its insane financial reparations intended to destroy Germany.Then they sat back and let events take their inevitable course.They're both still as dumb as they ever were.The Euro is proof

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    64.Suilerua "That's probably how Chamberlain felt about Hitler in 1938"
    Chamberlain's mistake was not because he was not an extremist, it was because he took blind eye on the what really happened in Germany, either deliberately or misled by some journalists. Please don't let this happen again today

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    65 The only thing that kept the world from being overrun first by Nazism and then by Communism was American extremism."Give me liberty or give me death" is as extreme as it gets and it's why the strongest bastion of human freedom, the USA exists at all. Also extreme is 20,000 thermonuclear warheads and bombs targeted at the Communist evil empire ready to bring an end to life on earth rather than see it returned to the dark ages of ten centuries ago.Be grateful for it, it's the only reason you are alive and free today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @63, And perhaps that is why the US will never solve any problem properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    64.Suilerua "As Senator Barry Goldwater once said, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice"
    The Nazis had the same determination when they decided to gas the Jews. Extremism is dangerous. Sad to see still extremests in modern,democratic society and continue posioning people who don't have the first hand information.


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