Skip to main content

Tiananmen: Activists mark date that can't be mentioned

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
June 4, 2012 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • June 4 marks 23 years since Chinese soldiers opened fire on students
  • More than 100,000 people are expected to gather in Hong Kong to mark deaths
  • Event passes once again without mention in Chinese mainland press
  • Weibo posts relating to the date are being deleted by government censors

Hong Kong (CNN) -- It may be 23 years since Chinese soldiers gunned down unarmed protesters near Tiananmen Square but memories of that day remain raw for pro-democracy activists within and outside the country.

More than 100,000 people are expected to gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park Monday night for a candlelight vigil to remember the lives lost when tanks rolled into the Beijing square.

The mainland government still bans public discussion of the events of June 4, 1989, when government forces intent on ending pro-democracy demonstrations opened fire on civilians.

The official Chinese government account said 241, including soldiers, died and 7,000 were wounded.

Rights campaigners say the number of dead was more likely to be in the thousands.

In a written message to be read out at the Hong Kong vigil, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng implored the Chinese government to "follow the will of Heaven" and advance democratic reforms.

"This Democracy Movement deserves universal approval," Chen said in the statement. "We ask that its requests be treated appropriately. We do not desire revenge but we want to completely reveal the truth. We are in favor of tolerance, but against forgetfulness. People who are forgetful have no future," he said.

Beginning the night of June 3, 1989, and stretching into the early morning of June 4, Chinese troops used lethal force to end a seven-week-long occupation of Tiananmen Square by democracy protestors in Beijing. In this photo, students and workers armed with wooden sticks gather outside the Great Hall of the People on June 3. Beginning the night of June 3, 1989, and stretching into the early morning of June 4, Chinese troops used lethal force to end a seven-week-long occupation of Tiananmen Square by democracy protestors in Beijing. In this photo, students and workers armed with wooden sticks gather outside the Great Hall of the People on June 3.
Remembering Tiananmen
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
Remembering Tiananmen Remembering Tiananmen
Tiananmen survivor looks back
Photog on Tiananmen Square tank standoff
China's new faces of the Communist Party

Chen fled to the U.S. from China in May after escaping house arrest in his hometown of Dongshigu in Shandong province. He was kept a virtual prisoner in his home for 18 months, he said, following a four-year jail term for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."

Chen discusses his next move

Chen is one of a number of activists who have been imprisoned or are currently detained for campaigning for human rights or religious freedom in Communist-led China.

Bob Fu, founder of Christian human rights group ChinaAid, who helped Chen in his quest to relocate to the U.S., led a student protest on the day of the 1989 crackdown.

"It was a tragic massacre for simply the students exercising peaceful protest for demanding reform and anti-corruption and freedom in China," he told CNN.

In China, there was no mention of the date in Monday's newspapers. And, government censors appeared to have been successful in deleting mention of the anniversary on Weibo, China's Twitter-like micro-blogging service.

Some Weibo users were said to be trying to evade censorship by referring to June 4 as "May 35th." But, even those terms were quickly deleted on what is commonly referred to as the censors' busiest day of the year.

The government is particularly sensitive this year, observers say, in the lead up to the once-in-a-decade leadership transition. In autumn, power will transfer to a new generation of politicians who will decide the future direction for China. Current President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are both due to step down.

In the days leading up to June 4, many known pro-democracy activists were said to have been detained as a pre-emptive measure to prevent dissent, according to Fu.

"Many of my friends and fellow freedom fighters have been under house arrest," Fu said. "Especially in the last week or so, many were confined under soft detention without any freedom of movement."

Others have been held for far longer. Ahead of the anniversary, the U.S. State Department issued a statement urging the Chinese government to publicly acknowledge the day and end the persecution of those involved.

"We encourage the Chinese government to release all those still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families," the statement said.

It added: "We renew our call for China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families."

Amnesty International also issued a statement again calling for the government to hold an "open and independent inquiry into the events of 1989."

The rights group paid tribute to Ya Weilin, the 73-year-old father of student who was shot and killed in the 1989 crackdown.

Amnesty said Ya and his wife Zhang Zhenxia spent 20 years campaigning for the government to make amends for those killed in the 1989 demonstration.

In a note written just before his death, Ya complained of the government's refusal to hear his grievances about his son's death and so he said he would "fight with his death."

Ya was later found hanged in a garage below his home.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
Over 200 Chinese villagers in Sichuan province have signed a petition to banish a HIV-positive eight-year-old boy, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT