This is me standing in Tiananmen Square in 1980- my first trip to China.
I was there again just before the massacre in 1989 on June 4th. Today is the 30th anniversary of that terrible day when Deng Xiaoping ordered his army to shoot students peacefully protesting the one Party-rule, demanding reforms including freedom of the press.
With inspiration from American democracy, the students had hastily created a 33-foot-tall sculpture made out of plaster and Styrofoam and dubbed the “Goddess of Democracy. It stood for less than a week from May 30th to June 4th before tanks rolled in and destroyed it.
Yet, outside of China, the “Goddess” is still remembered as a symbol of defiance. This year, in honor of the auspicious anniversary, a white statue of a woman has been relocated from Hong Kong University to Victoria Park, the site of the annual candlelight vigil commemorating Tiananmen. An almost identical sculpture has been installed in Taiwan’s capital (Taipei) inside Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Similar statues can be found in the United States and Canada.
Sadly, if you travel to Beijing now, walk around the enormous Tiananmen Square, and approach someone born after 1989, it is unlikely they have any knowledge of what happened three decades earlier. And that’s not just because people who do remember are afraid to speak about it. After that short-lived (7 weeks) Student Democracy Movement, the government imprisoned many of the survivors of the massacre, exiled others, and clamped down on public dissent. Efforts to learn about the event on the Internet have been successfully squelched to this day. More than 3200 words referencing the bloody incident have been censored according to a joint survey by the University of Toronto and the University of Hong Kong.
I feel sure “tank man” is one of the censored phrases since his photo is probably the most iconic memory of the massacre.
The current president, Xi Jinping, has continued and even intensified the country’s oppressive trajectory. Control over the media in China is said to be tighter than ever. According to a CBS news report, days ahead of today’s anniversary, the government apparently jailed some people who were known to have been associated with the 1989 protests, placed some on house arrest and forced others to leave Beijing.
If you’d like to learn more about the events surrounding the Student Democracy Movement, read or listen to my international thriller Rabbit in the Moon. The book won the Gold Medal for the Florida Book Award as well as several other literary awards. In honor of today’s anniversary, my husband Joel, who co-authored the novel, and I have listened to fans and updated the Authors Note and added a glossary, pronunciation guide, and a list of Chinese characters.