21 Years After Tiananmen, Reflections and Revelations

Understanding the important day in Chinese history

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Twenty-one years ago today, large scale protests broke out across China, the largest at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Both the protests and the government clamp-down, which resulted in hundreds of killed civilians, led to the gradual opening of Chinese society and markets, a process continuing to this day. Just as with last year's 20th anniversary, the event is bringing deep reflections from pundits. Here are the reflections and revelations.

  • We Now Know What the Chinese Government Ordered  The New York Times' Michael Wines and Andrew Jacob report that then-head-of-state Deng Xiaoping "ordered the military to try to limit injuries when it moved against Tiananmen Square protesters 21 years ago, but told them to be ready to 'shed some blood' if necessary, according to an unpublished diary said to document internal decisions that led to the violent crackdown. ... The diary, covering some nine weeks before and after the military action, is said to be written by Li Peng, China’s premier at the time and an ally of conservatives in the Chinese leadership. ... The same publisher caused a sensation in May 2009 by issuing the secret memoirs of Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Communist Party leader who opposed using force against the Tiananmen protesters and was ousted by his rivals after the military crushed the protests."
  • Chinese Blogger: How We Should Commemorate  Chengdu-based writer and activist Ran Yunfei, as translate by Global Voices: "Remembering June Forth shouldn’t be limited to telling the truth, but also real actions. First is a thorough investigation of the list of deaths in the incident, not only limited to the Tiananmen Mothers group. Every living individual, especially those witnessing the event, has the responsibility to make the records accurate. Only on this basis can we tell the truth to the world. Second is helping the disabled victims or families of the deceased as best as you can."
  • U.S. Media Still Gets Tiananmen All Wrong  The Columbia Journal Review's Jay Matthews decries, "Over the last decade, many American reporters and editors have accepted a mythical version of that warm, bloody night." However, "The problem is this: as far as can be determined from the available evidence, no one died that night in Tiananmen Square. A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully. Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances."
  • Today in Hong Kong, Another Demonstration  Global Voices' Oiwan Lam writes, "Today is the 21st anniversary of the June 4 Massacre in Beijing Tiananmen and the Hong Kong public will continue their annual candle night vigil tonight. However, the preparation process hasn't been very smooth so far. And this year, the conflict point is around the Goddess of Democracy. First of all, the Hong Kong police confiscated two statues of the Goddess of Democracy before the annual march to commemorate the Tiananmen incident on 30 of May. ... Meanwhile, Hong Kong Immigration has denied entry to the sculptor of the Statue, Chen Weiming, on June 1. Chen was deported back to the U.S early on the morning of June 2. The most outrageous incident has been the Chinese University Authority's refusal to allow the Democracy Goddess entry onto the university campus under the pretext of 'political neutrality'."
  • Chinese Protests More Frequent in May and June  The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Wasserstrom connects an ongoing set of auto labor protests to the Tiananmen tradition. "There's a special significance to the fact that, thanks to a strike wave at Honda factories in Foshan, Chinese protests are making headlines at this particular time of year -- yet again. This is because there's a long tradition of outbursts of unrest occurring in China between early May and early June."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.