Twenty-one years ago this month, tragedy took place in Beijing, China. Thousands of citizens, calling for freedom, human rights and democratic reform, were murdered by the soldiers and tanks of the government’s armed forces.
What started out as a peaceful demonstration two months earlier ended in bloodshed, with the dreams of hopes of an entire generation of young people crushed by the powerful hands of tyranny. This month, we remember the events of 1989 in China and the brave souls who dared to demand freedom.
They assembled in the centre of Beijing at Tiananmen Square, a plaza first built in 1651. Meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace” in Chinese, it has been the site of momentous periods throughout the country’s history.
1989 was no different.
It all began quite humbly in April 1989 with just a few thousand people. By late May, hundreds of thousands of students, farmers, workers, intellectuals and journalists, inspired by the overthrow of Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, gathered in Tiananmen to call for democracy.
On May 30th, one of the most memorable icons of the protests, the Goddess of Democracy, a 10-metre statue created by local art students, was unveiled in the square to a rousing ovation. Yet on June 4, 1989, the so-called “People’s Liberation Army” invaded the square and opened fire. It is difficult to know exactly how many deaths took place. Some say a few hundred, other sources say as much as 7,000. The violence continued for days, with many of the organizers of the protests being arrested, killed or forced into hiding.
A day later on June 5th, another unforgettable event took place. A young man walking on Chang Avenue in downtown Beijing, just a few blocks away from Tiananmen, distraught and fed up with what was taking place, decided to take matters into his own hands. He unexpectedly walked into the middle of the road and blocked the path of a column of government tanks that were on their way to the Square. The so-called “Tank Man” is still unknown to this day. Experts say he either died in the ensuing violence or survived and is still in hiding. Others say he escaped to Taiwan.
Maybe we’ll never know what happened to that brave person, but we know that the ideals he and millions of others in China hold, such as freedom, human rights and democracy, are alive and well.
The problem today is that the Chinese government has successfully whitewashed the events of May/June 1989. It has become a forbidden subject to talk about, and the government has prevented it from even being mentioned in history books or the media.
It’s almost impossible to read about the events on the internet in China since so many websites are banned there.
We therefore have a duty to remember those protests and the millions of people who risked their lives to make change not only in China, but in countries all over the world. Democracy isn’t handed down from above, it is created from below. And those of us who live in free countries like Canada have the opportunity to help those around the world still struggling for economic security, human rights and liberty.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”