Today marks the 30th anniversary of the “Tianamen Square Massacre” in Beijing, the capital city in China on June 4, 1989. In communist China, dissidents of the state, political, religious, and otherwise, who the state deems as a threat to communism and national “security,” are still met with arrests, heavy fines, and general persecution. At this time, there were uprisings around the country in China. Protests for freedom from the communist regime and way of life forced upon the people broke out across the country. Pro-democracy marches and protests broke out.
The protests centered in Beijing at Tianamen Square. The Square is enormous. It is one of the top ten largest squares in the world. It sits directly across from the Forbidden City, and several key communist monuments including: the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Known in China as the “June 4 Incident,” the protests were crushed when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared martial law and security forces fired on the protesters. China announced an estimated death toll of about 300 people. Outside estimates put the number as high as 3,000.
On June 5, all of the protesters were gone except for “Tank Man” – a man whose brief resistance and refusal to allow a line of tanks to pass became an iconic depiction of political resistance. American photographer Jeff Widener took the photo from a sixth-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel. The image became an international icon of global “resistance” to communism.
Current Chinese Defense Minister, Wei Fenghe, defended the government’s actions this week, saying military intervention quelled “political turbulence” and led to three decades of “stable development.”
U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo marked the anniversary this week by lauding the “heroic protest movement of the Chinese people that ended … when the Chinese Communist Party leadership sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to violently repress peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy, human rights and an end to rampant corruption.”
Pompeo urged China to provide a full accounting of victims of the “dark chapter of history.” He attacked China’s “one-party state (that) tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests.”
China’s accusatory response derided Pompeo’s “prejudice and arrogance.” Accusing him of interfering in their internal affairs in violation of international law.
“China’s human rights are in the best period ever,” the statement said. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics, a choice of history and the people, has been proved a right path in line with China’s national conditions and supported by the whole population.”
As the West looks on, one cannot help but imagine what state China and its estimated 1.386 billion citizens (as of 2017) could be in if they let their own people decide what government they wanted, opened up to free elections, and collectively had the choice to decide their own future.
No one knows what happened to “Tank Man.” Many believe he was arrested and executed after the stand. Others think that he might have been saved and is living now in hiding. Former President Jiang Zemin suggested in an interview in 1990 that he had not been killed.
While his fate remains unknown, his act still reverberates around the world. His act of defiance against a totalitarian government and the ability of any person in any society to take a stand against what they see as injustice still exists. It is a heroic act to stand up for what one believes is right despite the consequences.