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
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT