Tiananmen Square revisionism, East and West

China arrested a few courageous activists who attempted to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, while any mention of the June 4, 1989 events was purged from the communications media with Orwellian completeness. BBC News tells us that authorities have again resorted to pre-emptive electronic action to head of protests, blocking Internet searches for terms such as “six-four,” “23,” “candle” and “never forget.” Micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo has deactivated the candle emoticon, commonly adopted on the web to mourn deaths. Another BBC report, citing unnamed “rights campaigners,” tells us that hundreds were rounded up in Beijing, while a delegation of some 30 who came from Zhejiang province to “petition” were met at a railway station by police who put them on a bus back to their hometown of Wuxi. Some 20 were also reported by AFP to have been arrested and beaten in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, when they attempted to gather in the city’s May First Square.

On May 27, dozens apparently succeeded in gathering to commemorate the massacre in a city square of Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province—but the organizers were arrested in the following days. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) tells us that four members of the Guizhou Human Rights Forum are now being held incommunicado. On May 30, Fujian activist Fan Yanqiong led a small procession toward a local courthouse, where they unfurled banners demanding that the government rectify its claim that the 1989 movement was a “counter-revolutionary riot,” and expressing support for Premier Wen Jiabao’s calls for political reform. Police followed Fan home and harassed her, but the report did not say she was arrested.

CHRD also states that “as in previous years,” the Tiananmen Mothers, a group surviving kin of some of those killed in 1989, called again for an official reversal of the “counter-revolution” verdict, an independent investigation into the massacre, punishment for those responsible, and compensation for families of the victims. These demands have of course been ignored, and last week one Ya Weilin, a 73-year-old member of the Tiananmen Mothers group whose son was killed in the massacre, took his own life in the ultimate protest against the government’s silence. The Tiananmen Mothers appear to mostly make their demands through websites based outside China (and presumably not available within China). The Tiananmen Mothers website appears not be online at the moment, but their statement on the 23rd anniversary of the massacre is posted at the Human Rights in China website.

BBC cites the Dui Hua Foundation human rights group to the effect that “fewer than a dozen activists arrested in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown remain in jail… Those left in jail are not students who led the protests, but people who committed arson or attacked martial law troops…” But CHRD notes that several of those arrested in 1989 and subsequently released have since been arrested again and remain in prison. These inlcude Chen Wei and Liu Xianbin of Sichuan province, Chen Xi of Guizhou, and Liu Xiaobo of Beijing.

Bloomberg reports that tens of thousands came out for a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park the night of June 4 to remember the massacre and demand freedom to protest in mainland China. Some wore shirts bearing the image of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

And now we move from courage to cynicism… In a rare statement on the massacre (and one presumably not reported within China), Beijing’s foreign ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over a call from the US State Department to free those still in prison for their involvement in the 1989 protests. The Telegraph tells us the statement said the US “joins the international community in remembering the tragic loss of innocent lives” in the “violent suppression” of the protests. This is meaningless talk. In the wake of the massacre, the US imposed sanctions only on military and security material to China—and even these are full of loopholes. In the years since the massacre, US investment has flooded China, and in Washington’s admonishments to Beijing, human rights have taken a distant second place to the “intellectual property rights” of US compact-disk manufacturers.

Most tellingly, pillars of the paleocon right as well as exponents of the sectarian idiot left have sought to deny or justify the massacre. (The egregious Workers World Party is even now running headlines like “Tiananmen Square ‘massacre’ was a myth”—how funny that they have allies among the Beltway “pragmatists” who favor “stability” under authoritarian regimes.) And in recent years, loyal US client states have carried out their own bloody if less spectacular massacres of protesting citizens with only the most lukewarm criticism (if any) from their Washington overlords—from Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout to the “Amazon’s Tiananmen.” In this last little-noted atrocity, Peru’s National Police opened fire on indigenous demonstrators in the jungle town of Bagua on June 5, 2009—nearly 20 years to the day after the Beijing bloodbath.

Official US hand-wringing is all for public consumption. On June 4, 1989, China’s rulers proved to the world that they were willing to slaughter their own citizens in the interests of “stability.” They were rewarded with massive investment, as Chile was after Gen. Pinochet’s similar demonstration of Sept. 11, 1973. And the horrific conditions at the Guangdong factories that produce hi-tech gadgetry for Apple at minimal labor costs are the clearest evidence why this demonstration worked.

See our last post on China.

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