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March 31, 2011

Tiananmen Square: The Arab revolutions don’t deserve

Scott Stockdale

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On April 15, 1989, 100,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a Communist Party official known for tolerating dissent. During 1989, a number of communist governments in Eastern Europe fell, as the people demanded democracy and, led mainly by students and intellectuals, the people in Tiananmen Square followed suit.

They called for economic change and democratic reforms within the government structure. Demonstrations later expanded to the surrounding streets and large-scale protests spread to cities across China. While these protesters were peaceful - for the most part - there was some looting and rioting in various locations throughout China.

The movement lasted seven weeks after Hu's death on 15 April. In early June, the People's Liberation Army moved into the streets of Beijing with troops and tanks and use live fire to massacre many people.

Initially, the Chinese leadership couldn`t get the army stationed in the Beijing area to fire on the protesters, so it brought in troops from remote parts of China, and told them these people were rebels trying to destroy the country.

The exact number of deaths varies greatly, partly because it`s possible that the evidence of many of the deaths was removed.

Globe and Mail correspondent Jan Wong - who was there - placed the death toll at approximately 3,000, based on initial reports by the Red Cross and analysis on the crowd size, density, and the volume of firing.

An intelligence report received by the Soviet politburo estimated that 3,000 protesters were killed, according to a document found in the Soviet archive.

Following the conflict, the government conducted widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the Peoples` Republic of China (PRC) press.

Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was one of several high-ranking party members placed under house arrest for publicly sympathizing with the protesters.  Many others were purged from the party.

Although there was widespread international condemnation of the PRC government's use of force against the protesters, western government officials and business leaders made great efforts to curry favour with Chinese officials in order to open up and continue  business opportunities.

They justified this conduct by saying that the best way to promote human rights in China was to engage the leaders, not censure them.

To date, this approach hasn`t worked, as China becomes increasingly more repressive.

The Communist Party of China (CPR) does not allow discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests, blocking or censoring media and internet sources of information on it. 

Textbooks reportedly have little, if any, information related to the protests.

During a visit to France in 2004 President Hu Jintao stated that "the government took determined action to calm the political storm of 1989, and enabled China to enjoy a stable development."

He also said that the government would not change its view on the protests.

Currently, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to speak about the protests due to the possibility of repercussions such as jail time.

Leading up to and during the 20th anniversary of the massacre on 4 June 2009, the CPC increased security around Tianamen Square.

Over the years some Chinese citizens have called for a reassessment of the protests and compensation from the government to victims’ families.

One group in particular, Tianamen Mothers seeks compensation, vindication for victims and the right to receive donations from within the mainland and abroad.

Zhang Shijun, a former soldier who was involved in the military crackdown, had published an open letter to President Hu Jintao seeking to have the government re-evaluate its position on the protests. He was subsequently arrested and taken from his home.

When Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China", the Norweigian Nobel Committee  cited his participation in the Tiananmen protests in 1989 as an example, much to the chagrin of Chinese government officials, who become incensed at the mere mention of Mr. Xiaobo.

As a result of his peaceful campaigning for human rights, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has continually been detained, arrested and sentenced by Chinese communist authority since 1989, and is currently serving an 11-year sentence.

When the Nobel Prize was awarded, Mr. Liu dedicated it to the souls of the dead on Tiananmen Square in 1989. Due to his imprisonment, he was represented by a photograph of himself on his chair.

Recently, when Chinese citizens tried to emulate the uprisings for freedom in the Arab world, by using social networking on the internet, an overwhelming number of security officials waited at the designated gathering spots and arrested anyone they could find.

Tellingly, in this the second decade of the 21st Century, few world leaders make much of an issue of the censorship and brutal suppression of human rights in China.

Canada`s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, came to power vowing to be a strong voice in support of human rights in China, but after being scolded by the titans of Canadian industry, his voice on the matter is barely audible. This is also telling.

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