34 Years Later, Big Questions on Tiananmen Unanswered

China tightens access to site of crackdown, whose casualty total remains unknown
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 4, 2023 9:45 AM CDT
34 Years Later, Big Questions on Tiananmen Unanswered
Residents pass by a police van parked in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, Sunday, June 4, 2023.   (AP Photo/Emily Wang Fujiyama)

China tightened access to Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on Sunday, the anniversary of the military suppression of 1989 pro-democracy protests that left a still unknown number of people dead and discussions and commemorations forbidden within the country. In Hong Kong, eight people, including activists and artists, were detained on the eve of the anniversary of the crackdown, per the AP. Another 10 or more people were detained around Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday. The large public space with its lawns and sports grounds used to be the scene of an annual candlelight gathering to remember the hundreds or thousands killed when army tanks and infantry descended on central Beijing on the night of June 3 and into the morning of June 4, 1989.

Discussion of the seven weeks of student-led protests that attracted workers and artists and their violent resolution has long been suppressed in China. It also became increasingly off-limits in Hong Kong since a sweeping national security law was imposed in June 2020, effectively barring anyone from holding memorial events. The death toll from the 1989 violence remains unknown and the Communist Party relentlessly harasses those at home or overseas who seek to keep the memory of the events alive. In Beijing, additional security was seen around Tiananmen Square, which has long been ringed with security checks requiring those entering to show identification.

Those passing by foot or on bicycle on Changan Avenue running north of the square were also stopped and forced to show identification. Those with journalist visas in their passports were told they needed special permission to even approach the area. Still, throngs of tourists were seen visiting the iconic site, with hundreds standing in line to enter the square. Ahead of the anniversary, a group of mothers who lost their children in the Tiananmen crackdown sought redress and issued a statement renewing their call for “truth, compensation and accountability.” Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to acknowledge responsibility for the killing of pro-democracy protesters.

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Sunday's events reflected the political chill that has sparked a rise in emigration to Britain and other countries and a deep ambivalence among a population that had been strongly engaged in local politics. Party officials in Beijing have excluded opposition figures from the local legislature and district committees, and tightened control over media. Authorities also removed books about recent Chinese history from public libraries and forced a leading university to take down a sculpture commemorating those who died in 1989. (More Tiananmen Square stories.)

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