Thirty years on, China is still trying to whitewash the Tiananmen crackdown from its history



The official line in China is that the Tiananmen ‘incident’ was necessary for stability. This whitewashing of history has largely been accepted by many in China as the truth.
How Hwee Young/EPA

Chongyi Feng, University of Technology Sydney

General Wei Fenghe, China’s defence minister, surprised the world over the weekend.

In a speech at Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue — an annual Asian security defence summit – he said the Chinese government made the “correct” decision ordering a military crackdown on the student-led, pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989:

That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence.

Then, on Monday, the English-language Global Times newspaper, a mouthpiece of the communist government, ran an editorial further defending the June 4 Tiananmen massacre:

As a vaccination for the Chinese society, the Tiananmen incident will greatly increase China’s immunity against any major political turmoil in the future.

The June 4 crackdown has been one of the most sensitive and taboo subjects in China over the past three decades. So why is the government now justifying the brutal military violence against unarmed citizens in such an open fashion?

A harsh crackdown and immediate denial

The Chinese government has good reason to worry about open discussions about the Tiananmen crackdown. The 1989 pro-democracy protests were one of the largest and most peaceful social movements in modern world history. The students and other participants did not take violent actions or put forward radical demands. They simply appealed for the government to reform itself.

The protests involved over a million students and other citizens in Beijing (as well as other cities), but were so peaceful and well-organised that the protesters did not smash a single window along the capital’s streets during seven weeks of demonstrations.




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Why remember the past? The case of Tiananmen


The moderate wing of the CCP at the time, led by General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, accepted the movement as “patriotic” and the demands for reforms as legitimate.

The moderates supported the principle of “resolving the issues on the track of democracy and rule of law” and conducted conciliatory discussions with the protesters. They were also prepared to allow greater press freedom and independence in China, loosen the constraints on civil society organisations, and tackle corruption in the government.

It is a shame the hardliners, led by Army Chief Deng Xiaoping, dismissed Zhao and his followers and sent over 200,000 soldiers equipped with machine guns, tanks, cannons and helicopters to take lethal action against the protesters, resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent citizens, if not more.

The order to shoot civilian citizens was so shameful that most soldiers defied it to reduce casualties. And despite two to three months of propaganda attempts to praise the soldiers as heroes, the CCP and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) later altered its description of the event from the “pacification of a counter-revolutionary riot” to the “Tiananmen disturbance” or the “Tiananmen incident”.

The Chinese government has also banned any discussions of the subject in classrooms, in print and online. This attempt to erase history prompted one author to call China the “People’s Republic of Amnesia.”

Whitewashing of history

Wei’s comments in Singapore and the Global Times editorial reflect the party’s longstanding line on the crackdown.

During and right after the military response, the CCP regime constructed a narrative that portrayed the peaceful protests as a conspiracy of hostile forces backed by Western powers to create turmoil and divide China. The government justified its crackdown as necessary for maintaining stability, paving the way for China’s rise and eliminating “the thought trend of bourgeois liberalisation”.

It also launched a comprehensive and sustained “campaign of patriotic education” to indoctrinate students from kindergartens to universities with this party-approved narrative, omitting any inconvenient facts.




Read more:
Rewriting history in the People’s Republic of Amnesia and beyond


Today, students are either taught nothing about the Tiananmen massacre or told the protesters were criminals. Some Chinese students in my university classes in Australia have even refused to consider readily available information about the event after several years of studying abroad.

Worse still, many Chinese immigrants coming to Australia after 1989 share the same wilful ignorance.

The Tiananmen crackdown is remembered every year with protests in Hong Kong. In mainland China, the event has been erased from the public consciousness.
Jerome Favre/EPA

In the modern world, repressive authoritarian rule is not a necessary condition for economic development and prosperity, and never should be. All stable and well-developed economies around the world are liberal democracies, including Australia.

The rapid economic growth in China over the last four decades did not result from the communist dictatorship, which condemned China to utter poverty for 30 years during the Mao Zedong era. The primary factor contributing to China’s rise was the evolution of the country from a totalitarian society to a more open one. This allowed for more personal autonomy and greater exposure to globalisation, including the transfer of capital, technologies, skills and new ideas.

Indeed, when the Tiananmen massacre took place, few could imagine the CCP regime would last another three decades, let alone become a superpower second only to the United States in economic and military might.




Read more:
Tiananmen 25 years on: CCP now fears the masses gathering online


However, as a “fragile superpower”, China is mired in a host of problems. These include systematic corruption, environmental degeneration, loss of public trust in government, enormous wealth inequality, burgeoning debt, and growing tensions between “stability maintenance” and the defence of human rights. Despite the government’s soft power moves abroad, the world also remains suspicious of its actions in the South China Sea and initiatives like One Belt, One Road.

The government’s defence of the 1989 crackdown demonstrates a paranoia that a “colour revolution”, or another popular uprising, will someday come to challenge the regime.

One can only hope this insecurity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the zeitgeist of the June 4 generation is one day breathed back to life.The Conversation

Chongyi Feng, Associate Professor in China Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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CHINA: AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO RENEW LICENSES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS


Key attorney for Uyghur Christian among those effectively disbarred.

DUBLIN, June 11 (Compass Direct News) – Li Dunyong, one of several lawyers involved in the defense of Uyghur house church Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was effectively disbarred at the end of May when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license.

Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate.

Authorities failed to renew licenses for at least 15 other lawyers who had defended civil rights cases, religious and ethnic minorities and political dissidents, according to watch group Human Rights in China (HRIC).

During a process of “Annual Inspection and Registration” for all lawyers and law firms, with a closing date of May 31 for renewal applications, authorities also denied three law firms the necessary approval to practice. Officials harassed and physically abused several of the affected lawyers in the months prior to the loss of their licenses.

The lawyers can technically appeal this decision or re-apply at a later date, but most see this as a clear warning to avoid handling sensitive cases.

“The process of building a country ruled by law has suffered a serious setback,” HRIC claimed in a statement on June 4.

The rejection of applications followed the Feb. 4 disappearance of Gao Zhisheng, a high-profile Christian human rights activist who once said that every human rights lawyer would eventually become a human rights case. Gao’s whereabouts remained unknown at press time. (See “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist,” March 25.)

Lawyer Li had planned to visit Alimjan in northwest China early this month, but recent events have forced the legal team to reconsider its defense strategy.

Alimjan, a member of the troubled Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province, remains in arbitrary detention awaiting trial, 16 months after his arrest. Officials initially closed the foreign-owned business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity.” He was then detained in January 2008 on charges of endangering state security and was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008 on charges of “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets.

Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence. Last May 21, government sources told Alimjan’s mother that the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Kashgar planned to quietly sentence him to three years of re-education through labor, thereby circumventing the court system.

Under Chinese law the PSB, which originally filed the case against Alimjan, may authorize such sentences without approval from the court or other state agencies.

The case was returned to court for consideration last October, but at press time there was no indication of another date for a court hearing.

Li petitioned for and was granted permission for a rare meeting with his client on April 21 after witnesses saw police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to a hospital on March 30; Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why. When Li questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his health.

The beating followed a previous meeting with his lawyer – only the second of such visits permitted during his detention – on March 24.

Human Rights Advocates Threatened

On April 13, China’s State Council released a new “National Human Rights Action Plan” that focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.

Issued at least partially in response to a United Nations review of China’s rights record in February, the plan also affirmed the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.

Contrary to such promises, however, the detention and physical abuse of lawyers has multiplied in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for HRW, maintains that control over the yearly renewal of licenses remains one of the main obstacles to the independence of China’s legal profession.

Authorities placed several human rights lawyers under house arrest or heavy surveillance in the first week of June as China marked the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. According to HRIC, policemen seized one of the 15 temporarily disbarred lawyers, Tang Jitian, from his home early on the morning of June 4; they had already detained him for 10 hours the previous day.

“This is a display of meticulously planned suppression of lawyers who enforce and uphold the law and are dedicated to public interests,” Tang told HRIC.

One lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, said officers barred him from leaving his home on June 3 and told him, “Think of your wife and child.” Jiang is among those whose licenses were not renewed.

In late May, HRW reported that Beijing authorities had pressured several legal firms not to endorse the renewal applications of members who had defended civil rights cases.

Report from Compass Direct News

CHINA: HOUSE CHURCH PASTOR DETAINED


Police seize Zhang Mingxuan, wife and co-pastor after leader agrees to BBC interview.

DUBLIN, August 7 (Compass Direct News) – Chinese police detained house church leader Zhang Mingxuan, along with his wife Xie Fenlang and co-pastor Wu Jiang He, at a police station in Hebei after a BBC journalist attempted to interview him on Monday (August 4).

International affairs journalist John Simpson phoned Zhang to request an interview, as required in a handbook given to journalists reporting on the Olympic Games in Beijing. Zhang agreed to the interview, but as Simpson traveled to meet him, police seized Zhang and his companions and moved them to a local police station.

When Zhang informed Simpson of their whereabouts using a cell phone, Simpson drove to the police station and shouted a few questions across the courtyard to Zhang, who was visible through an open window on the second floor of the building, as shown on BBC video footage.

Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials had banished Zhang and his wife from Beijing for the duration of the Games, fearing they would try to meet with visiting foreign officials. After forcing Zhang and Xie to leave their home and evicting them from several other temporary residences, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.

Zhang and Xie then moved to another, more remote town to await the completion of the Games. (See “China Banishes Pastor from Beijing Prior to Games,” August 5.)

 

Protests to President

Zhang traveled as an itinerant evangelist throughout China before moving to Beijing in 1998. He is co-founder and president of the China House Church Alliance, established in April 2005 to defend the rights of house church Christians.

In 2005, U.S. President Bush invited Zhang to a meeting during an official visit to China. The meeting never took place, however, as officials detained Zhang before he could attend.

As president of the alliance, Zhang in November 2007 sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao, urging China to grant greater religious freedoms.

The letter, also signed by Zhang’s wife, read in part, “President Hu, are you aware that officials under you arrest, beat and drive away the Christians from their homes?”

Zhang also mentioned several detentions for his religious activities, including a 185-day imprisonment in 1986, shortly after he became a Christian, and numerous threats, beatings and arrests after he moved to Beijing. In 1999, PSB officials seized Zhang for preaching in a public place and confined him to a mental hospital for 13 days.

The letter described harassment, including threats to cut off water and electricity, and accusations that Zhang was illegally adopting orphans after he established an orphanage and school at Yanjiao.

In his conclusion, Zhang implored Hu to improve the rights of religious minorities, particularly Christians, for the social and moral benefit of China.

This June Zhang met with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Christopher Smith during a visit to Beijing, but officials placed him under house arrest the following night, the South China Morning Post reported. Also in June, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, a rapporteur of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Also this week, authorities arrested three Christian activists who were demonstrating in Tiananmen Square. The Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C., Brandi Swindell of Generation Life in Boise, Idaho, and Michael McMonagle, national director of Generation Life, were taken into custody yesterday (August 6) after displaying a banner that read “Jesus Christ Is King” in both English and Chinese.

They were released soon after.

Report from Compass Direct News