Thirty years have passed since the June 4 Tiananmen Square protests. Former Chinese pro-democracy activists speak about how the 1989 student-led demonstrations in Beijing have left a lasting impact on their lives.
Lawyer and former student protester Pu Zhiqiang called that time a “forbidden zone” that has been wiped from Chinese history.
Pu said, “Over the past 30 years, the June 4th movement didn’t really appear in history because people are still unclear what exactly June 4th was.” Then he continued, “Any in-depth research to uncover the truth is a largely forbidden zone and has been strongly suppressed.”
Pu, who was disbarred for his political activism, chose to remain in China and is as a high-profile advocate of speech and press freedoms.
“Chinese people are still doing their best to try to remember what happened 30 years ago,” said Wu’er Kaixi, a former June 4 protest leader.
Wu’er, now 51 years old, was among the most outspoken of the student leaders during the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that ended in bloodshed.
Wu’er escaped abroad after the crackdown when he found himself at No. 2 on the Chinese communist regime’s most-wanted list.
Thirty years later, Wu’er is still a critic of the Chinese regime and remains just as committed to bringing democracy to China.
“Remembrance is one of the most humble forms of resistance,” said the former June 4 movement leader.
Wu’er now lives in Taiwan with his wife and children and is the honorary chairman of Reporters Without Borders. He feels fortunate that he survived when many others did not. Despite living with survivor’s guilt, Wu’er said he is proud of the work he did as a protest leader.
While many former leaders and student demonstrators have moved on, embracing lives and careers with little direct relation to pro-democracy movement, others like Wu’er remain committed to the cause.
As Chinese communist leaders continue to condemn the protests and deny the military’s bloody crackdown, these former Tiananmen Square pro-democracy activists are determined to keep the memories alive.
Dong Shengkun recalled, “They (the soldiers) stood at the entrance of the alley and fired inside the alley.” He broke down and wept as he talked about what happened that day. “The students continuously screamed the names of their (fallen) classmates, and to us they said, ‘Beijing residents, we are so sorry,'” cried Dong.
The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre left many scarred for life. Rowena Xiaoqing He participated in protests in southern Guangdong Province in 1989.
He recalled the events unfolding after June 4. “The following days I went back to my school; at first I tried to argue with my friends whether there was a crackdown, a military crackdown, or a massacre,” said He.
She stated that the Chinese regime told people that the crackdown was made up by Western media. “Very soon, I shut up because we know that arrests were going on throughout the country,” said He.
He said that the beautiful sunshine, the faces of the younger generation reminds her of “this time 30 years ago in 1989 when I, and the young people of my generation took to the streets with that much hope, thinking that we are going to make history.”
“But history did not turn at that turning point in my country,” She added.
Others like Dong are saddled with criminal records that have restricted their choices. Dong served a 17-year sentence for allegedly attacking martial law troops—a charge he denies.
Since his release, Dong has been unable to find a steady job. He is forced to live with his elderly mother while receiving the minimum living allowance of US$145 per month. Fortunately, Dong said he is able to find odd jobs for extra income.
However, Dong said he wishes to marry his girlfriend. But the Chinese regime will take away his meager stipend if he were he to do so. He describes the humiliation and depression he has faced as “too difficult.”
Despite lifelong challenges, Dong said he has no regrets for having joined in the protests out of a sense of outrage and desire for change. The 1989 movement “was about justice,” Dong said.
Includes reporting from The Associated Press