As the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen incident passed on June 4, the Chinese leadership under Mr. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, who became President of the People’s Republic of China just in March, remained silent.
There was no official recognition of the important anniversary. Inside China, the government restricted all mention of Tiananmen in publications and blocked Internet sites that carried information about the incident. No public commemorations were allowed and Tiananmen Square was carefully patrolled.
The world would have welcomed a fresh approach to the worst incident in modern Chinese history after the Cultural Revolution from the new leaders in Beijing. Despite declarations against corruption and for a “clear government,” the new Chinese rulers, including Premier Li Keqiang, let the anniversary pass with no change in their official view. They let stand the previous verdict, a verdict more political than factual — that the Tiananmen incident was a “counterrevolutionary riot.”
The way the anniversary was remembered outside China could not have been more different. Outside China, the world recalled the 1989 incident with vigils and gatherings for those killed and wounded. Official Chinese government figures for those killed are 241, with 7,000 wounded. Outside estimates of the deaths resulting from the 200,000 troops deployed on the day they controlled the square range from several hundred to 3,000 or more.
Online discussions of the incident continues to flourish, with new books being published at every anniversary. Wherever Chinese communities are established outside of mainland China, the day was remembered.
Despite the silent denial of the government, some minimal signs of opening did appear. In Hong Kong and Macau, semi-autonomous regions of China, nearly 150,000 residents gathered to commemorate the day. A June 4 Memorial Museum was set up at the City University of Hong Kong.
In Beijing, a group of parents whose children were killed in the incident, Tiananmen Mothers, issued a statement calling for a re-evaluation of the official line.
Unfortunately Chinese police locked those parents out of a cemetery in western Beijing to prevent them from visiting the graves of their children.
Not only those parents, but also the Chinese people, and the world, deserve an open and clear re-evaluation of the official government line. The disparity between what is known outside China and what is discussed inside China is not sustainable.
The official policies of all countries should be based on transparency, accountability and public discussion. When they are, it is less likely that past problems will be repeated.
China’s rise onto the world stage should not be built on a cover-up of the past, but rather on a fair, open and reasonable evaluation of its past. All countries must learn how to come to terms with their history and to find ways to understand the reasons why mistakes were made.
For China, the re-evaluation of the Tiananmen incident would be a good place to start.