A quarter century after Tiananmen Square, China has made huge economic – not political – progress

On the anniversary of June 1989, the Communist Party is still silencing debate

Tue, Jun 3, 2014, 01:00

China is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, and RSF has pointed out how the number of journalists arrested in the run-up to the anniversary has intensified.

South China Morning Post journalist Wu Wei has been missing for weeks, presumably for backing Pu Zhiqiang.

Other journalists arrested include Xiang Nanfu, a contributor to the Boxun news website, while journalist Gao Yu has been placed in criminal detention.

“As in the case of Gao Yu, the fact that a committed journalist such as Wu Wei has not been heard from is of the utmost concern,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of the press freedom organisation’s Asia-Pacific desk.

EU appeal

The European Union has also called on China to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to respect the freedoms of conscience, expression and association recognised by the Chinese constitution, and to release all those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views.

“While acknowledging China’s advancement of the economic and social wellbeing of its people in the past 25 years, the EU also hopes to see greater space open up for discussion and debate about China’s recent history and for lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work without harassment or interference,” it said.

The catalyst for the events of 1989 was the death of the sacked general secretary of the party Hu Yaobang, on April 15th of that year, a reformer purged by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, architect of China’s opening-up process.

In recent months, there have been events commemorating Hu Yaobang, including one event attended by former leader Hu Jintao (no relation).

Hu Jia – also no relation – the Aids activist who has been jailed for his views and remains under house arrest in Beijing, remembers how in 1989, the Hu Yaobang memorials turned into a movement, and students began to gather in cities.

‘Human attitude’

“Hu Yaobang, within the communist system, was very liberal and he had the human attitude to face the mistakes made by the Communist Party. After Hu’s period, there was 10 years of freedom..

“June 4th on Tiananmen Square was a commemoration of Hu Yaobang and mourning for him. It was an affirmation of Hu Yaobang.

“Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang [the communist leader who tried to reason with the students and who was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life] chose the side of right, at the cost of huge political sacrifice, such as ending their political career,” said Hu.

“We need to use what they [Hu and Zhao] did and use the truth of history to attack the current government’s denial and distortion of history,” said Hu.

Passing the Beijing Hotel yesterday, the heavy vehicles harken back to one of the most startling images of defiance – “Tank Man” who placed his shopping bags down to face down the tanks.

After a quarter of a century the image remains fresh, but the challenge he laid down has never been taken up, merely rolled over.

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