China is the world’s most populous nation. It is an industrialized, nuclear-armed power. Unlike the former Soviet Union, it is a major trading partner of nearly every other industrialized and semi-industrialized nation on the planet. And it is run by a brutal dictatorship that is much more skillful than the former Soviets were at keeping its iron fist invisible to the outside world.
But not today. Not on the twentieth anniversary of the day when the government of the People’s Republic of China unveiled its true nature and sent its tanks and infantrymen into the only significant gathering place in its capital city and killed an as-yet unknown number of college students peacefully expressing themselves. The “Gate of Heavenly Peace” became the site of a massacre. That happened June 4, 1989.
On June 4, 2009, Tiananmen Square in Beijing is flooded with police officers, who outnumber tourists. No one can enter the square without being thoroughly searched. No one can take a photograph there without official permission, which today is being granted only reluctantly and to few, if any, people who have serious camera and film equipment. No ne can take a banner or blank paper and art supplies into the square at all. Nor can anyone linger there.
On June 4, 2009, as you read this post from the comfort of your home, likely with the only restrictions on your internet access being those which you have self-selected to shield yourself from the evils of images of people having sex or using foul language, consider how 350 million internet users in the PRC do not enjoy that luxury. Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Hotmail, Facebook, and a wide variety of other internet search engines, social networking, and other ways to gather information and share ideas have been shut down. There are no town squares, physical or virtual, open in China at all today.
Clever Chinese computer users will do what they can to dodge the government’s typically ham-fisted attempts to control the circulation of information. Some will be caught and punished. The leaders of the student movement that caused so much fear in the halls of the People’s Assembly and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party twenty years ago have gone their separate ways — some disillusioned and cynical, some pursuing their idealistic impulses in other ways — and some of them have been taken into official custody by now, to prevent them from doing anything that might challenge the status quo.
The government has hoped to raise the next generation of Chinese in complete ignorance of what happened, but it is doomed to fail because too many people were there, and personal memories are not so easy to erase as the contents of censored schoolbooks. The result is a generation of young people who are deeply cynical about their own government, which may actually be acceptable to the government so long as they are overtly obedient. Certainly the disinterest in governmental and political affairs, which they share with their generational counterparts in the West, is welcomed by the leadership.
China’s promises of reform and freedom are lies. If you are unmoved by the fate of college students who wanted democracy, consider in the alternative what China’s government does to Christians and Buddhists who want the right to practice their religions in peace. The same people who sent tanks to kill college students twenty years ago are still running the show there.
Americans and Europeans, be grateful for your freedoms. Not everyone in the world has them. Honor and celebrate your liberty by using it.