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Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. It is an indication of the extraordinary sensitivity that still surrounds that event that public discussion of it is muted, if not suppressed, and the death toll remains unknown and bitterly contested. The rest of the world has an obligation to remember what happened that fateful night so that it has no illusions about the nature of the regime with which it must deal. More importantly, the Chinese people must learn what occurred so that they understand that their future is not determined — and that the pursuit of democratic dreams may well prove bloody.

The events that culminated in the night of horror — June 3 and 4, 1989 — began months earlier, as Chinese from all walks of life took to the streets to demand freedom of expression and an end to the endemic corruption that had warped Chinese officialdom since the end of the Maoist era. The trigger for the protests was the death of reformist leader Hu Yaobang in April that year.

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