Thirty Years ago in China
Do you remember Tank Man? Thirty Years ago in China, in Tiananmen Square, there was a student protest. One student referred to as Tank Man was a hero of the event. Students were trying to get the Chinese government to create a democracy in China. Chairman Mao Dezong had ruled the country from 1949 until 1976 when he died. China is a Communist Country, and we often do not hear much about what is happening there. Indeed, we in the “outside world” only learn from government news items what is happening. Thirty years ago, things turned bad for the thousands of students who were protesting in the square. The military were brought in to disperse the students and take back control of the city.
Many of us remember the vision of the student standing in front of one of the army tanks. Bravely he was trying to stop it going forward. More photos and videos have been in the media in the last few days. I remember that vision from thirty years ago.
I visited Beijing a few years ago. My friend and I were surprised to discover our hotel was a short distance from the Forbidden Palace. It was not far from the Square. One morning, we walked from the hotel to the famous place.
It is a huge square, one of the ten largest public squares in the world. Buildings such as The Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China are there. And of course the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
It is a rather overwhelming place, with thousands of people, locals and tourists exploring and taking photos. There were groups of students who were standing in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes. It is something that many school students do as part of their support for their country. I found it hard to get the image of Tank Man out of my memory.
A great photo of Mao Zedong is on the wall of one of the buildings and there are many military personnel around. I felt quite emotional there, as I found it difficult to not recall the violence of the protest and subsequent massacre.
We do know that only a small number of people know much about the so-called massacre, and it is forbidden to talk about it in China.
Student Protest 2008
I had not long been at the university in Shaoxing in 2008 when I met a male student through one of his teachers. He wore a t-shirt with the image of “the tank man” on the front. He spoke of his mission to educated the students at the University of the truth of the protest in 1989, and make them remember tank man. I was very concerned for his safety as I knew that there might be costs for doing what he was doing. Perhaps he may have to go to re-education. I didn’t know. I felt unsafe talking with him, as I had signed a document forbidding me to talk about religion, security, and other things as part of my contract. He felt he was safe as his father was a senior official in the Communist Party. I did not feel so confident!
Public Protest 2014
I was in the city of Shaoxing on the morning of June 4th, walking along Jiefang Lu (the main street through the city). Suddenly a silence came over the area. Then I saw a single line of older people, some pushing their bicycles, walking silently along the side of the road, carrying flags. I was unable to read what was on the flags. To me, it looked like a protest about Tiananmen Square.
Student in Australia
In 2009 two students from the University came to Australia, and I was looking after them during the day. At night they were billetted by Aussie ESL teachers. One morning, as I drove the girls to visit another ESL teacher, one of the girls, asked me if I knew about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. I was shocked that it had come up in conversation. Apparently her hostess believed that all Chinese should know the story. She made her watch a YouTube video about it. She phoned her father to ask him if he knew about it. He just said, “We don’t talk about it.” I was angry with the hostess, but was able to discuss it a little. In all the time I have known this student, it has never been mentioned again.
I will always remember Tank Man. Do you remember?
Great program from ABC Four Corners – watch here.