Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Thousands hold vigil in memory of Tiananmen massacre

As millions lined the streets of London to watch the Royal pageant and thousands turned out for a Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace, in the former colony of Hong Kong tens of thousands filled a park to protest the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred 23 years ago in Beijing.

Candlelit vigil

An estimated 180,000 turned out for the protest and candlelit vigil to mark the anniversary. Standing at the centre was a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that was built in Tiananmen Square before tanks and troops crushed the protests.

"Long live democracy. Never forget June 4," the protesters shouted. Beijing will not forget, but refuse to publicly acknowledge the event nor reveal the true number of those killed, estimated by some to be as high as 3,000. The central government continue to block any attempts to search for information by banning books and blocking the access to websites containing such information.

Banning books

Attempts by Beijing authorities to prevent the publication of a new book which looked at the Tiananmen massacre through the eyes of a former mayor failed, and was this week on sale in Hong Kong bookshops.

"Conversations With Chen Xitong," which is not available in mainland China, is based on interviews with Chen, who was mayor of Beijing during the 1989 crackdown. Chen has long been portrayed as having supported the military assault, but in the book he says the crackdown was an avoidable tragedy and that he regrets the loss of life, though he denies being directly responsible [Washington Post].

Within the mainland the authorities have a far easier time blocking the flow of information. Terms related to the anniversary, such as "six four" for June 4, 'tankman', 'tiananmen massacre' or the '4th June incident' are either blocked or restricted.

Coincidental figures

However this can create its own problems. On Monday China's censors blocked access to the term "Shanghai stock market" on popular microblogs after the index fell a bizarre 64.89 points, matching the date of the crackdown. In a further twist, the Shanghai Composite Index opened at 2346.98 points on the 23rd anniversary of the killings. The numbers 46.98 are 4 June, 1989, backwards [FT / WSJ].

"Whoa, these figures are too freaky! Very cool!" said one microblogger. "The opening figure and the drop are both too creepy," said another. The Shanghai Stock Exchange said it was investigating.


At the Hong Kong protests, many decried the censorship and the continuing repression. "Even though the Chinese government has pledged to reform the political system in China, not much has been done," Fang Zheng, who was run over by a tank during the crackdown and lost both legs, said. "They should stop the repression of mainland dissidents and activists and reassess June 4."

Some on the mainland have attempted to speak out, but they have been swiftly rounded up and silenced. One 73-year-old and a few of his friends staged a tiny protest a week ago in the small town of Guiyang in Guizhou province, then posted footage of it on the Internet. It may have even gone unnoticed but for the fact Mei Chongbiao along with members of his family were taken away by police, thus stirring interest by foreign media [BBC / Times of India / Epoch Times].

Impromptu calls for demonstrations in Beijing went unheeded. Few would have likely turned up, fearing retribution. But heavy rain may also have been a factor [BBC]. Should any have attempted to make their way, they would have run into tight security that at least one paper described as being on a war footing [SingTao - Chinese]

Long march

From the biggest democracy in the world came calls for China to free those still in prison 23 years after the Tiananmen massacre. The US state department message also called on China to "provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing" [BBC]. China rejected the calls, saying that other countries should not interfere with China's internal affairs.

Back in the Hong Kong park the huge crowd listened to a recording from Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 protests, who said he believed democracy will come to China if all can learn from the spirit of Burma's democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. Some 23 years after the Tiananmen protests, democracy looks a long way off. On the road to democracy, China is still on a long march [BBC / Trust.org / Channel News Asia].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No comments: