CHINA. Beijing. April to June 1989. Tiananmen Square massacre.
The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led demonstrations in Beijing in 1989. The students called for democracy, greater accountability, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, though they were loosely organised and their goals varied. At the height of the protests, about a million people would assemble in the Square (see picture 2). The protests were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. In what became widely known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks killed unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been estimated at anywhere between hundreds and thousands.
Public memory of the Tiananmen Square protests has been suppressed by the authorities since 1989. Textbooks have little, if any, information related to the protests. Print media containing reference to the protests must be consistent with the government’s version of events. Following the protests, officials also banned controversial films and books, and shut down a large number of newspapers. Within a year, 12 percent of all newspapers, 8 percent of publishing companies, 13 percent of social science periodicals and more than 150 films were banned or shut down.
Currently, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to speak about the protests because of potential repercussions. Many young people born after 1980 are completely unfamiliar with the events and are apathetic about politics while older intellectuals no longer aspire for political change and instead focus on economic issues. Youth in China are generally unaware of the events that took place, of the symbols such as tank man (see last picture), or of the significance of the date June 4 itself. The entire surface of Tiananmen Square was later resurfaced, to remove evidence of blood stains left there after the crackdown.