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Selective remembrance

As Chinese activists commemorate Tiananmen Square, the government remains silent about the 1989 massacre

Selective remembrance

A June 4 candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to commemorate the protesters killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

For the past 29 years, members of the Tiananmen Mothers group have urged the Chinese government to acknowledge, investigate, and apologize for the Tiananmen Square massacre, when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shot and killed hundreds or even thousands of students. The response: silence and the continued persecution of those who speak out. 

Members of the Tiananmen Mothers share a somber bond: Each has a family member who died on June 4, 1989, at the hands of the PLA. Most of the 128 members of Tiananmen Mothers are in their 70s or 80s, and in the past 29 years, 51 members have died “without getting justice.” Instead, the government put them under surveillance or forced them to leave the city during the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” read an open letter signed by the members of Tiananmen Mothers. “There was a total disregard for the loss of invaluable human lives.”

Although Chinese state media stayed silent on the anniversary yesterday, activists around the world commemorated the day. Chinese artist Badiucao urged netizens to take photos reenacting the famous “Tank Man” photo, which depicted a lone man standing in front of a row of tanks rolling down the street to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Using the hashtag #Tankman2018, people around the world posted photos of themselves wearing a similar white shirt, black pants with a shopping bag in each hand. 

Badiucao believes Tank Man represents “something lost in China’s young generation now—the idealism, passion, sense of responsibility, and confidence that an individual can make a change,” Badiucao told The Guardian

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people attended a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of the massacre. The vigil was the only memorial of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil, and it attracted about 100,000 people, according to rally organizers—police estimated about 17,000 participants. In recent years, some young Hong Kong residents have stopped attending the vigil as they wish to distance themselves from all aspects of mainland China. 

Over in Chengdu, police again blocked a planned prayer meeting at Early Rain Covenant Church and detained Pastor Wang Yi, preacher Li Yingqiang, and other church members. Congregants instead met in groups to pray in their homes, and police later released all the church members before midnight. This is the third time police arrested Wang in the past month.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Chinese government to disclose the number of students killed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which officials have refused to do.

“As Liu Xiaobo wrote in his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize speech, delivered in absentia, ‘the ghosts of June 4th have not yet been laid to rest,’” Pompeo said in a statement. Liu, a democracy activist, died in Chinese custody last summer. “We join others in the international community in urging the Chinese government to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained, or missing.”

Although the Chinese government tries to erase the memory of June 4 from its people, many Christians point to the Tiananmen Square massacre as the catalyst for their conversion. Some like Zion Pastor Ezra Jin said the bloody crackdown revealed to them there was no hope in the Chinese Communist government and led them down a path to find hope in Jesus. They realized that while justice for the events of June 4 may not be found in this life, it will be found in the next.