20 years on
Outside the Communist Party, memories of the 1989 massacre get hazy
AMONG journalists at a Chinese newspaper, there has been some surprising talk of publishing a story to mark the 20th anniversary on June 3rd and 4th of the massacre of hundreds of Beijing citizens by Chinese soldiers. One journalist even told his colleagues he would be ready to go to jail for doing so. But such bravado, especially if it proves more than rhetoric, is likely to be rare. For many in China the nationwide pro-democracy protests of 1989 and their bloody end have become a muddled and half-forgotten tale.
Who, 20 years ago, would have thought that the Communist Party could come to this?
WHEN the tanks departed Beijing after the crackdown of June 1989, no one with an interest in China thought the matter ended. The Chinese Communist Party had won its battle for survival, but the war seemed unwinnable. All the more so after communism collapsed in Eastern Europe later that year, followed by the Soviet Union. Even China’s lunge for breakneck growth from 1992 looked set to accelerate forces the party might not control. As the party’s ideological and moral foundations crumbled, it was no longer clear what on earth it stood for.
A lot has changed in China over the past 20 years. Chinese citizens definitely have a lot more economic freedom than they did in the years before the Tiananmen Square protests (and subsequent massacre), but they still do not truly have a free society. The Communist Party still rules with an authoritarian hand, and dissidents are still jailed for disagreeing with the government.
The image above, by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press, is one of the most enduring from the massacre 20 years ago. The vast majority of people in China have never seen it; some say the events themselves are almost forgotten in China.