Friday, June 3, 2016

Tiananmen at 27: We are all Chinese now

“Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”  - John Donne, Meditation XVII 
What Chinese students demanded from the Chinese regime in June 1989
Cubans both in the island and in the diaspora have used the phrase "we are not Chinese" when discussions arise of imposing a "Chinese model" on Cuba or, in other words, economic reforms without accompanying political reforms. In some cases the impression is given that Cubans would not tolerate what the Chinese have tolerated under communism in China.

This analysis is mistaken, not because Cubans will not resist a policy that condemns them to decades more under communist tyranny, but because the Chinese have resisted and paid a high price for their desire for freedom. More than 35 million Chinese were killed under this regime between 1949 and 1987. The Chinese regime also demonstrated that the founding generation of leaders, as they neared death, initiated one last spasm of sustained mass killings in the Cultural Revolution.

Today the world observes, refusing to forget as communist China tries to minimize and erase, the anniversary of a massacre. However it is important to also recall the courage, persistence and sacrifice of millions of Chinese citizens who stood up for freedom between April 15th and June 5th of 1989 and how close they came to achieving a democratic China. More than one million Chinese students and workers occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square and held it for six weeks. This square covers an area of 100 acres and is the seat of communist China's political power with a history that predates it to 1651. By mid-May over 400 cities across China were participating in the protests demanding democratic reforms and on May 20, 1989 martial law was declared.

Troops moved into the center of Beijing on May 20, 1989 but refused to fire on the nonviolent demonstrators and left four days later. The Chinese communist leadership, humiliated began identifying troops that would brutally put down the nonviolent demonstrators.

On June 2, 1989 the communist party elders issued the orders to put down the "counterrevolutionary riot." The savage suppression by military forces was not just in Beijing but across China in all those cities that had participated in the protests demanding reform.

Time magazine in 2015 reported on the brutality visited on protesters in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. On June 4, 1989 the protesters at the center of town voluntarily left but when they learned of the massacre in Beijing things changed:
"Then crowds swelled and protesters, fully aware of the danger they were putting themselves in, took to the streets holding banners that read: “We are not afraid of death.”Street fights erupted, and, over the course of June 4, June 5 and June 6, turned into riots. Protesters stormed the gates and ransacked the Jinjiang Hotel, about 1.5 km from the main square, after which “the police rounded up about 70 protesters and began to beat them brutally in front of guests,” Lim tells TIME. Vehicles were set on fire and eventually a major market in the city was razed (which would later be used by Communist propaganda to discredit the protesters). ...[C]onservative estimates from a U.S. diplomatic cable, the Los Angeles Times and an Amnesty International report from Sept. 19, 1990, around 30 people died in the clashes. Others, including Western eyewitnesses, put the estimate as high as 400."
Imagine these scenes played out in 20 other cities in China along with the huge massacre in Beijing, the terror inflicted on the Chinese people over those days begins to be placed in context, despite the full number of dead still not being known.

Tank Man on June 5, 1989 stops a column of tanks in Beijing
In the midst of all this on June 5, 1989 one man with his shopping bags infuriated by what had happened, and was still happening, challenged and stopped a column of tanks. 27 years later the fate of that man remains unknown, as does the fate of the tank driver who refused to run him over. Thousands of people of good will from around the world are asking the Chinese government to reveal what happened to these two individuals.

Sadly, we must also remember the betrayal of the Western world that for the sake of economic interests paid lip service in support of Chinese democrats while quietly backing the Chinese communist dictatorship.

Unfortunately, as one can see in Cuba and Vietnam with the United States and other Western powers marginalizing pro-democracy activists, paying lip service on human rights, while embracing communist dictatorships for economic, or other perceived strategic objectives, as was done three decades ago in China that today in a real and tragic way "we are all Chinese."

Cuban American students over the years have gathered to remember what happened to their counterparts in June of 1989 but now let us all take concrete action on behalf of the Chinese seeking to be free. Here are four thing you can do. The first three are requests made by the NGO Human Rights in China and the last by Initiatives for China:
The world is witnessing today, with human rights in decline worldwide for the past decade, the fulfillment of martyred Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's December 17, 2002 warning when he called for global solidarity and explained the consequences of failing to do so. 
"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."
Erazim V. Kohák in his book Jan Patočka: philosophy and selected writings provides an idea of what this global solidarity would look like when he refers to Patočka’s “solidarity of the shaken” as a community freed “from the preoccupation with the pursuits of peace and prosperity that inevitably lead to war and turn it instead to the pursuit of the Good, the care of the soul” that is “living with a clear conscience, living in truth, or in far older terms, seeking first the Kingdom of God.”

Therefore let us identify with our Chinese brothers and sisters, not only in our shared suffering of  totalitarian regimes, in a world too often complicit with tyranny, but also in our shared struggle for freedom.

We are all human and therefore ought to be free.

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