|Students peacefully demonstrating|
Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace laureate, who is also a prisoner of conscience currently imprisoned for his continued non-violent activism had already served a prison sentence for his participation in the Tiananmen student protest in 1989. He was again jailed in 2008 for his human rights activism and sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger persuaded the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath to downplay the human rights considerations surrounding the Beijing Massacre and to focus on the economic and strategic relationship. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a October 1, 1989 article revealing Kissinger's direct business ties to Communist China and his defense of the regime and justification of the massacre. FAIR reported how on August 1, 1989 this business consultant who also heads "China Ventures" [that engages China's state bank in joint ventures] wrote a column that appeared in a Washington Post/L.A. Times ("The Caricature of Deng as a Tyrant Is Unfair", 8/1/89). In it Kissinger argued against sanctions: "China remains too important for America's national security to risk the relationship on the emotions of the moment." He asserted: "No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators." Kissinger's reputation according to Umair Khan who reviewed his 2011 book, On China, describes him as a man whose "reputation is based on his career as a diplomat turned business consultant." This business relationship was not mentioned back in 1989 by those publishing the former Secretary of State's case against sanctions on China.
Incidentally over the course of six weeks in 1989 beginning on November 17, the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia although engaging in acts of repression did not commit a huge massacre against tens of thousands of demonstrators in the main square of its capital. The demonstrations grew to Tiananmen Square levels of 200,000 and 500,000 demonstrators in Prague. The end result was the Velvet Revolution and 25 years of peace and prosperity. Kissinger's argument did not hold up under the light of events.
Unfortunately, the downplaying of the human rights situation in China has had consequences over the long term. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dictum "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" has special resonance.
In 2011 Muammar Gaddafi believed that he could get away with mass murder because the world looked the other way in June of 1989 in Beijing and said it plainly: "The unity of China was more important than those people on Tiananmen Square." Its not the first time impunity in one bloody deed has encouraged another. Between 1915 and 1917 the Ottoman Turks murdered more than 1.5 million Armenians and like the Chinese communists in 1989 got away with it. This inspired Adolph Hitler to carry out his own holocaust stating in 1939: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel has denounced indifference and silence before injustice stating that: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
Unfortunately, the United States government and much of the Western world failed sacrificing human rights and decency for the sake of economic interests. Leaving it to civil society, the press and non-governmental organizations to take up the slack. The outcome has been a steady deterioration of human rights and freedoms around the world. China is now a rising superpower with a regime that has blood on its hands and refuses to recognize, apologize or repent for its past crimes. The Chinese diplomat in London who shoved two women to the ground as they tried to leave red roses in memory of the June 4, 1989 Beijing Massacre victims demonstrates the regime's violent contempt for human rights. The regime has also sought to censor communication detaining activists prior to the anniversary and blocking Google and messaging apps.
Twenty five years later in 2,000 free Chinese in Senado Square in Macau, another 2,000 free Chinese in Taipei's Liberty Square and over a 180,000 Chinese in Hong Kong held vigils in memory of their compatriots massacred in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Around the world Chinese diasporas, human rights groups, and members of civil society organized events to remember and continue the call for justice, repentance and reconciliation.
|Prayer vigil at Florida International University in 2014|
Let us give thanks for the courage of the young people of Tiananmen Square who 25 years ago showed the world that the Chinese people desire freedom and justice above all earthly goods, and who were willing to give their lives in their brave witness. May all be strengthened by their bravery. May all be blessed by their memory.All: Let us remember with gratitude the martyrs of Tiananmen Square.In this anniversary of China’s young martyrs let us pray that the Chinese leaders of today would turn their hearts away from fear and defensiveness, that they would reach out to the victims and victims’ families, and repent of the massacre of China’s youth. May repentance be the first step toward reconciliation and be a promise to history to never again turn on their own people in murder.
Abbreviated Time line of the June 4, 1989 massacre
30 May 1989 - Goddess of Democracy is unveiled: During the previous night, students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts assemble the 37-foot-high statue of the Goddess of Democracy, built in two days out of plaster and styrofoam. It stands opposite the giant portrait of Mao Zedong.
2 June 1989 - Hunger strike by Capital Joint Liaison Group: The Liaison Group, now composed solely of intellectuals, decides to stage a series of 72-hour hunger strikes to show the students that others too are ready to put their lives at risk. Literary critic Liu Xiaobo, rock star Hou Dejian, and economist Zhou Duo are among the first to start fasting.
3 June 1989 - Troops are ordered to reclaim Tiananmen Square at all cost. They begin to open fire upon people blocking the advancement of the army and also on people who are just shouting at the troops. Tanks and armored vehicles move towards the center of the city. An unknown number of Beijing citizens die, succumbing to gun shots—sometimes at point blank—or crushed by tanks and armored personnel carriers. In angry retaliation, civilians throw stones at the soldiers, who shoot back. Some soldiers are attacked and beaten up. Buses and cars are set on fire.
4 June 1989 1:00 a.m. The troops have blocked off all approaches to Tiananmen Square. Various people who witnessed the killings of civilians report to the BWAF and to the students’ Command Headquarters, urging them to withdraw.
3:00 a.m. Liu Xiaobo, Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo and a fourth men who began the second hunger strike negotiate with the troops to allow the students to leave the Square.
4:00 a.m. On the square the lights go off. The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is toppled by a tank.
4:30 a.m. The tanks and the troops stationed in the north corner of the Square begin to move forward. Students vote and eventually agree to leave. The soldiers shoot out the students’ loud speakers. Led by the Command Headquarters, the students walk away from the Monument to the People’s Heroes toward the southeast part of the square. A row of armored vehicles moves slowly toward the monument. Other troops arrive from the west, squeezing the crowd. As the students leave, army tanks crush tents on their way. The student guards are the last to leave, with soldiers about 18 feet behind them firing warning shots.
5:00 a.m. As the students pass Qianmen, residents line the streets and applaud. The army throws tear gas and shoots at students and citizens near the square and in other areas of the capital. Some people are crushed under tanks. The number of victims is not known.
6:20 a.m. Tanks crush retreating students.
5 June 1989 - Final act of defiance. An unarmed men blocks a column of tanks as they rolled towards Tiananmen Square. He's taken away by men in plainclothes. 22 years later his identity remains unknown.