The Irish Times view on Beijing blocking Tiananmen Square commemorations: more of the same

A regime based on popular, freely expressed consent has no need to try to erase historical memory

 

It is testimony to the enduring power of a 32-year-old memory of a brutally suppressed stand for human rights that Beijing feels the need to block any commemoration today of the events in Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989. A testimony to the regime’s sense of its own fragility, of its fear that allowing the expression of rebuke by its own people will undermine the credibility and legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

A regime based on popular, freely expressed consent has no need to try to erase historical memory – and Beijing will not in the long run succeed.

The massacre was precipitated by peaceful gatherings of students and workers in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities, demanding freedom of expression, accountability, and an end to corruption. Many hundreds died when troops cleared the streets.

China has this year extended the prohibition on marking the anniversary to Hong Kong and Macau where the notionally autonomous local authorities have cited anti-pandemic measures to ban such events and threaten up to five years in jail to those breaking the ordinance. Hong Kong has managed the pandemic well and social distancing rules have been eased. On Monday police arrested the activist “Grandma Wong” (65) for “unauthorised assembly” for staging a lone protest against the massacre.

In mainland China, as usual in the weeks ahead of the anniversary, the authorities have been on high alert suppressing online discussion and pre-empting gatherings, including restricting communication of members of Tiananmen Mothers, a group of relatives of massacre victims. The police also forced dissidents across the country, including journalist Lu Yuyu, writer Zha Jianguo, activist Ji Feng, and academic Yang Shaozheng, to leave their homes for guarded “vacations”.

Thirty-two years on, with the detention of an estimated million Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, routine online censorship and harassment of dissidents, and the imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong, Tiananmen’s legacy, it would seem, is more of the same.

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