"We expected some bloodshed -- to be hit by police batons, perhaps. That's what we expected. Live ammunition? No. Never." Wu'er Kaixi is one of the lucky ones. After 30 years, he can still look at what happened in Tiananmen Square from a distance -- not from behind prison bars, where hundreds wasted away -- or through the eyes of family, who lost everything. "I am the survivor of a massacre," the former student leader says quietly. "I have to live with the guilt."
In Taiwan, where he fled during the government's manhunt, Wu'er tells reporters he never dreamed their protests would lead to such unspeakable horrors. For weeks, millions of Chinese people had converged on the square to call for democracy. Those hopes came crashing down on one dark and terrifying night when a convoy of troops entered Beijing with the order to end the demonstration with whatever means necessary.
Innocent civilians tried desperately to form a human blockade around the students, but they were mowed down. Men in uniform opened fire on the crowd, while students, workers, and ordinary people fought back. They tried setting fire to the military vehicles, but nothing seemed to hold the Chinese troops back. "I saw a few students were trying to climb over the fence and evacuate from the square, and a tank went straight there and crushed them to death," Dong Shengkun remembers. Others drove over protestors who weren't even armed. Dead bodies lay motionless in the streets.
At the emergency rooms, doctors couldn't keep up with the bodies. "The floor of the ER was covered by blood," Wu'er could tell from his own bed, "so the casualty must be very high. In the hospital, you can smell the blood. You can see the people are dying next to you." Not that anyone would know this from Chinese memoires or television tributes. To try to bury the story, the government rounded up the protestors that survived and put them in prison. Elsewhere, the mentions of the slaughter have all but vanished from the country's media.
Even now, fathers like Dong try not to speak about that horrible day. They worry their children will be targets -- or worse, become protestors themselves. "It is for his safety," Dong insists. "I worry that I might influence his thoughts if I started chatting to him about those things." That's the fear, another survivor explains, "that the regime has brought to everybody."
Today, the tanks have been replaced by tourists, who go to the square to mark the 30th anniversary of one of the worst bloodbaths in modern history. "On the country's internet, monitors will work overtime to delete any mention of [it]," CNN warns, "part of a decades-long government effort to erase memories of Tiananmen. "Anyone who dared in the past to publicly commemorate or even mention the events of summer 1989 was silenced. People who tried to light candles where protesters died along Changan Avenue or near Tiananmen Square were arrested. Former protesters who had experienced June 4 and tried to speak to media about it were stopped, warned, and monitored by the police. Soon, people stopped talking and started forgetting. According to Dong, they did it for their own good."
But the world did not forget. On today's anniversary, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had harsh words for the communist government, who, even today, defends the killings of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of their own people as the "correct policy." It was, the state-run newspaper Global Times wrote, a "vaccination" against future "political turmoil." Here in America, Pompeo insists, we honor the heroes of that brave movement who fought for democracy, human rights, and an end to the violence still haunting China today.
In the decades that followed that dark 1989 day, there was hope, Secretary Pompeo explains, that "integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society. Those hopes have been dashed. China's one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests."
"Today, Chinese citizens have been subjected to a new wave of abuses, especially in Xinjiang, where the Communist Party leadership is methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith, including through the detention of more than one million members of Muslim minority groups. Even as the party builds a powerful surveillance state, ordinary Chinese citizens continue to seek to exercise their human rights, organize independent unions, pursue justice through the legal system, and simply express their views, for which many are punished, jailed, and even tortured."
Christians, Nina Fea and Bob Fu warn in the Wall Street Journal, fare no better. Pastors and other believers are being arrested at record numbers. Registered churches have been shut down or driven underground. Crosses and other religious symbols are being torn down and replaced with pictures of President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese government will never succeed in burying the legacy of that day, because it lives on. It thrives inside the barbed wire fences of the Uyghur internment camps or the dank cells of the Falun Gong. It rears its ugly head in the internet blackouts, the boarded-up churches, and the children snatched away from religious parents. As Secretary Pompeo pointed out, China's own constitution says all power belongs to the people. But they are little more than words on paper as power is just one of many things denied the Chinese people by their communist government.
For more on the Tiananmen anniversary, check out this new post from FRC's Arielle Del Turco.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.