It has been three decades since the events of the deadly June 4th crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. The Tiananmen Square massacre marked the bloody end to months of student-led demonstrations that had spread to hundreds of Chinese cities. The People’s Liberation Army, with explicit instructions from the Chinese Communist Party to clear Tiananmen Square “at any cost”, advanced into the city with tanks, trucks, armoured personnel carriers, and a relentless barrage of gunfire.
In its wake, hundreds if not thousands of protesters and onlookers were killed. For China, it marked a turning point away from the prospect of greater freedom and towards authoritarian oppression that lasts till this day. Despite being a taboo subject in China, relatives of the victims are still demanding to know the truth about what exactly happened that day.
“Nobody thought the army would ever open fire. It was unimaginable. It was a time of peace,”You Weijie, 66, whose husband was killed in 1989
Tiananmen Mothers Advocacy Group
The goal of the Tiananmen Mothers, which has dozens of members, is to get compensation from the Chinese state, have the leaders responsible for the violent repression held accountable, and find out how their loved ones died.
To date, the precise number of people killed remains unknown. Preliminary numbers released by the Chinese Government indicated “nearly 300 deaths including troops”, while labelling the demonstrations as “counter-revolutionary riots”.
The Chinese Red Cross provided an estimate of 2,700. while the generally accepted range — based on various surveys of hospitals — is between 400 and more than 1,000.
So far, the Tiananmen Mothers has registered 202 official deaths – a tiny fraction of the total actual deaths.
Censorship of the Tiananmen Incident
The Chinese Government has taken repeated steps to erase the events of the June 4th crackdown from the collective memory of Chinese citizens. Commemorative events held in public are swiftly suppressed, online searches block the use of phrases like “Tiananmen 1989”, “June 4, 1989”. Most recently, China has blocked access to wikipedia for all languages ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.
For Chinese millennials who were born or came of age after 1989, the events of that day barely register. This is hardly surprising given that schools make no mention of Tiananmen or the larger democracy protests that swept the country that summer.
For the older generation that still remembers, the fear instilled by the political apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party has created a national culture of self-censorship and collective amnesia.
With the advent of artificial intelligence and 5G, the Chinese government is utilizing tech in an increasingly dystopic fashion – AI censorship and monitoring of the internet, surveillance cameras in every street, the social credit system.