Tens of thousands of people have held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 23rd anniversary of the crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
But on the mainland, the Chinese authorities detained political activists to prevent them from marking the anniversary.
Anchor Marco Werman speaks with The World’s Mary Kay Magistad.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. China doesn’t like its citizens remembering Tienanmen Square. But today tens of thousands of them did with a candlelight vigil in the former British colony Hong Kong. It was 23 years ago today that the Chinese military sent tanks into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The crackdown brought weeks of peaceful protest by students to a violent end. Hundreds of people were killed. The Chinese government goes to great lengths to keep people from marking the anniversary, as The World’s Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing told me earlier today.
Mary Kay Magistad: The government makes a point every year of rounding up dissidents or activists or people who are known to speak out about what happened on June 4th, 1989. They take them outside of Beijing, away from anyone who could interview them. Also, a lot of younger people in China aren’t even really aware of what happened on June 4th. But there have been a couple of interesting little ways of marking the anniversary this year that don’t normally happen. There was a little protest in the southern town of Guiyang, far away from Beijing. And then very interestingly, in Shanghai the stock exchange, the composite index, closed down 64.89 points. Now that might just sound like a random number, but break it down: 6 – 4 – 8 – 9; June 4th, 1989. That was commented on quite a lot on China’s version of Twitter, Weibo.
Werman: Interesting. I just have to know before we go on: With Hong Kong part of China, how does the Chinese central government in Beijing allow protest in Hong Kong but not on the mainland?
Magastad: From the moment Hong Kong became part of China in 1997, the Chinese government promised as part of the one country/two systems deal, Hong Kong could maintain its way of life. And that included having demonstrations. The government has squeezed a little bit on some demonstrations and on freedom of the press, but I think that it knows that if it were to ban this particular protest in Victoria Park, that Hong Kong residents would be up and arms. They would see this as a bridge too far.
Werman: As far as online China goes it seems there’s only one system. The government has been blocking some search terms on the web in relation to this anniversary. What kind of things are they blocking?
Magastad: All kinds of things. They’ve been blocking, of course, obvious things like crackdown, tanks, gunfire, protestor; but also words like candle, fire, anniversary, today, tomorrow, Victoria Park, silent tribute, black clothes. Because some Chinese people online were calling for people to just stroll in the streets wearing black clothes as a sign of remembrance for the dead.
Werman: That’s a long list.
Magastad: And I’ve only barely scratched it. It’s several dozens of terms, possibly hundreds.
Werman: The United States, Mary Kay, has called for all of those still jailed over the Tienanmen demonstrations to be freed. Do you know how many demonstrators are still in prison?
Magastad: The Dui Hua Foundation, which was founded to try to keep track of Tienanmen political protestors and prisoners, says that there are somewhere between seven and twelve still in prison. One of them was charged with arson; one with counter-revolutionary crimes unspecified. When the Chinese prison authorities have been asked about the fate of these people, they claim they don’t know anything about them. But Dui Hua does have records that these people are still in prison. It’s calling on the Chinese government to, it’s high time to release these people, they’ve already served 23 years. The Chinese government responds to all such requests by saying this is an internal matter and we will resolve it in our own way and in our own time.
Werman: Mary Kay, you said earlier that a lot of young Chinese don’t know much about Tienanmen Square. Are Chinese students taught about Tienanmen Square, is it in the curriculum?
Magastad: The government has tried and seems to have largely succeeded in wiping out the collective memory of the Tienanmen demonstrations in the younger generation. After the Tienanmen crackdown, the Chinese government started a program of patriotic education in schools to try to encourage the younger generation to think about the common enterprise of China regaining its rightful place in the world as the top nation. And of course it did not talk about the Tienanmen crackdown except to say that there was this disturbance by counter-revolutionaries and some members of the People’s Liberation Army were killed. And when I’ve talked to young people over the last few years, I’ve actually been shocked at the lack of knowledge about what happened in 1989, and also the lack of interest.
Werman: The World’s Mary Kay Magastad speaking with us from Beijing. Thank you as always, Mary Kay.
Magastad: Thank you, Marco.
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