Twenty-four years ago today, on June 4, 1989, the Communist government of China launched a brutal repression against protesters, most of them young, who had been camping out in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for several weeks. Estimates of how many people were killed in the Tiananmen Square crackdown range from zero (the official Chinese government’s number, since they deny that it ever took place) to 7,000, which is probably too high; nevertheless, we know for certain that a lot of people lost their lives that day and in the days that followed.
The video embedded above is a compilation (not by me) of some of the iconic images of this event. Warning: the video is graphic and includes real-life violent and bloody images. The one image most people remember from Tiananmen was the young man who stared down a tank, alone, on Chang’an Avenue in front of the square.
I remember when this incident happened. It was shortly before the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and about two years before the Soviet Union cracked up. I was a bit younger at the time (17) than many of the protesters were. This was a shocking event because it had seemed so optimistic: tens of thousands of people had been camping out in the square for several weeks, holding rallies and calling peacefully for the Chinese Communist Party either to relinquish control of the country or to moderate its repressive policies.
As horrible as the Tiananmen Square massacre was, it did lead to some good things. Culturally and certainly economically China has become much more open in the past 24 years. The Chinese heavy metal scene marks the Tiananmen incident as one of the key factors that led to the development of the genre; metal bands were virtually unknown in China before 1989, and many of the early pioneering groups formed as a direct response to the issues raised by the occupation and the crackdown.
We still don’t know how many Chinese lost their lives in the massacre, and the Chinese government still has much to answer for–the brutal and illegal occupation of Tibet, for starters. But on this day let us remember those who gave their lives trying to forge a better and freer society. Nearly a quarter century ago their blood that ran through the cracks and paving stones of Tiananmen Square joined the blood shed on many other grounds for much the same reason–grounds with names like Lexington Green, Gettysburg, Omaha Beach, the streets of Dublin, Baghdad and Damascus. Let us remember.