20 years ago, tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and mowed down hundreds of student protestors.
It’s an event that has coloured the world’s perception of China, marking the country’s leadership as ruthless and cold-blooded.
Around me, in Hong Kong, the atmosphere is interesting. In 1989, when news of the bloodbath at Tiananmen Square reached Hong Kong, thousands of people poured onto the streets to protest and show solidarity.
More than a decade after the handover the China, the political and business leadership has realised that profit and survival depend on being friends with Beijing and toeing the party line. Every year, candlelight vigils are held to mark June 4 but the wisdom from the top seems to be let “bygones be bygones”.
Thankfully, the average Hong Kong person isn’t quite ready to completely sell out. There has been debate over proposals to delete this event from history textbooks in Hong Kong.The Chief Executive’s recent remarks on sharing the same feelings on the events of June 4 as the rest of Hong Kong’s people were met with a public outcry. People were unimpressed by his obvious unwillingness to openly condemn the actions of the Chinese government that day, and moreover pointed out that as he was not elected by the Hong Kong people who could not claim to know or represent their feelings.
The newspapers too have kept the issue alive, especially in the run-up to this day. A few weeks ago a columnist in The Standard aired the “bygones be bygones” view and since then, every day, the newspaper has carried letters from readers explaining why this is not the right stance. The South China Morning Post, oft accused of being pro-Beijing, has run a series on the crackdown, and thankfully refrains from referring to it as an “incident” or “turmoil” as the Chinese government would have it.
All this prompted me to read up on the events leading up to that day and to be inspired by the courage of the young people, probably around my age, who put their lives on the line for something greater than themselves.
True, it’s been a while. China has progressed and its people have benefited from economic growth that the Communist party would like to take credit for.
But if the June 4 “incident” – as it is now increasingly being referred to – is such a non-issue, why does the Chinese government continue to harass those who were involved? Why did Hong Kong not allow a dissident student leader to attend a vigil here – if we could allow in Mugabe and Thaksin, why not this guy who 20 years ago took on his government and has been in exile ever since? If it’s so unimportant why is a successful investment banker from Taipei, who was once a student leader, ready to put his life on the line and go back to China to face trial?
It is probably too late for justice, and those involved are possibly not naïve enough to want justice enough anymore. But they want to be acknowledged.
They want it to be recorded in their homeland that they were there, that they stood while their friends were being crushed by bullets and tanks, that they were not traitors but just young people asking for a little more freedom and a better life.
They deserve justice but the least they could be given is acknowledgement. Twenty years ago on this day, a lone man, whose identity is unknown as also his fate thereafter, faced down a row of tanks. The least we can do is not forget that.