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 3.

    Though there are always two sides to every story, it might indicate something that the government don't want its people to know what happened that summer. What we are looking for is just the truth, the fact, and nothing more.

  • 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 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 29.


    I see your point about having "freedom" in China. Yes, you can visit the BBC website. Yes, you can exercise your rights as a consumer (to a certain extent). Yes, you have all the luxuries you can enjoy in China as long as you can afford it. But do you call this REAL freedom? About your point on not being able to make your voice heard. Well, if the ruling party don't listen then you'll vote for one that WILL in the next election. That's the power and essence of political freedom. Can you do that in China? Can you get rid of corrupt officials with your vote (if you have one)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    No one can deny the unreasonable paranoia, fear and superstition the CCP has just by looking at what the censors are doing. They are blocking out the terms, "Victoria Park", "Black Clothes" and even the word "today", since the index of the Shanghai exchange fell 64.89 points. Are they going to block out the word "yesterday" tomorrow? Superpower my aunt fanny.This is the behavior of a child on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 89 is just double happiness plus one.


Comments 5 of 84



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