Tiananmen Square Massacre Anniversary—The Fourth of June

For the Chinese, the fourth of June is a day not to be forgotten.

Tiananmen Square massacre

It marked the fervent aspiration for human rights and freedom when the university students set up tents and staged a large scale of protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But on the fourth of June in 1989, as the tanks were moving in and crashing the idealistic youngsters, it demonstrated how military power could destroy not only lives, but aspirations as well. It also signified a rather mixed sentiment among the Chinese people.

After that day, most Chinese people became quiet. And gradually they became busy, with all sorts of economic activities. Deng Xiaoping understood his people. He knew that the best way to silent the potential protesters was the economic weapon, though he probably considered the initial military forces necessary to stabilise the nation for the continuation of speedy economic reforms. Indeed Deng was mostly remembered for his unprecedented daring economic reconstruction that lifted up enormously the living standard of the Chinese and turned the whole nation around. The West watched the drastic changes with disbelief. Stability, as the Chinese regime promised, was somehow restored. And later, prosperity was also felt and benefitted by many. All has been accomplished at the expense of human rights and freedom.

Naturally the Chinese remember the fourth of June with anguish. It is never right to kill the innocents, let alone one’s own people. Because of what happened in Tiananmen Square, Deng is reviewed in history with critical comments despite his many remarkable contributions to China. I wonder whether Deng ever regretted his inhumane measures and felt sorry for having left a horror in his political life. But then, what would have happened to China without the military crackdown in 1989? Could China afford another revolution? Who can say for sure?

It looks like the Chinese regime doesn’t need to crash its people with military power anymore; it can now draw them to its side without coercion, and by offering economic opportunities, it has turned many to support the Party. Dissenting voices never cease to surface here and there, but none can cause any disturbances having the extent similar to the summer of 1989. How the idea of political freedom can be so quickly replaced by that of economic freedom. And how youngsters can be so easily sucked into the modern economic system, putting aside their political ideals, if any, and are quite ready to compromise for self-interests. Now most Chinese are proud of the achievements of their nation led by the Communist Party. The Chinese are no longer the subservient race looked down upon by the West. The awakened lion has proved itself to be strong and powerful after all.

Human rights are one thing, human nature is another. Deng surely knew human psychology.

But reality is never the ideal. If we are only concerned about what is going on in reality, and try to accommodate in order to gain benefits, we, as the human race, would never be truly satisfied. At the back of our minds and the bottom of our hearts, and behind all those economic glamours, we are saddened by the transience of our own aspirations. There is still a subtle yearning for something bigger and deeper, that can uplift us not for material pleasures, but because of a satisfaction from the fulfilment of our souls. So the paradox remains, and the Chinese hearts continue to be unsettled, trapped in the rigid system, finding ways to express their aspirations.

Will people stage another fourth of June? Will the regime conduct another massacre? These are questions we don’t have answers now. History often surprises us. But there is no second Deng, and the persistent freedom-fighters are now hard to find. Everyone is watching China, we’ll see.


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