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Tiananmen 1989

Tiananmen Square

In 1989, in Adelaide, on behalf of unions, I spoke at a protest rally condemning the crack-down and arguing that ‘socialism’ has to be invigorated by democracy…albeit Chinese style. This has not happened as Deng’s power brutally crushed dissent and opened up the Chinese economy for capitalist profit-making.

For an exciting novel, read Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma 2008 about a Chinese student shot in the protests and in a coma, but where he can hear what is happening to him but not respond. This novel from a participant in Tiananmen, a novelist now in London, recounts the events dramatically of this one student at the protest of slow reform, traces his mother’s attempts to look after him so revealing the subsequent silencing of the mothers, and ends with the brutal repressive massacre, with a soldier shooting the student. In the absence of any real history, this novel opens up most the issues that one day will be faced.

From Amnesty (blocked in China)
Twenty years ago today a group of mothers in Beijing experienced the worst thing a mother could endure – the brutal death of their own children, at the hands of their own government.

They call themselves the Tiananmen Mothers. They are a group of Chinese women who never wanted to become activists. But when their children were killed in the violent military crackdown on the Chinese pro-democracy movement 20 years ago, everything changed.

Since that dark day in Tiananmen Square the Mothers have been denied the freedom to publicly mourn the loss of their children – while the Chinese authorities have suppressed the official death toll, estimated at more than 200 people.

Please sign Amnest’s petition in support of the Tiananmen Mothers and demand an independent investigation into the Tiananmen crackdown

Led by Nobel-peace prize nominee Ding Zilin, they face great personal risk every time they speak out. To date they’ve suffered detentions, repeated interrogations and prolonged house arrest. All they want is the freedom to publicly mourn their children without harassment and an independent inquiry into what happened on that dark day 20 years ago.

It’s a long, dangerous and lonely campaign — and their suffering continues to be compounded.

Unbelievably, the Chinese authorities have gone to such lengths to conceal the truth behind Tiananmen that the next generation of students don’t even recognise the iconic picture of the ‘tank man’ that dominated coverage of that fateful day.

We can never restore what the Tiananmen Mothers lost that day, but we can show them that they are not forgotten.

Amnesty International Australia

Remembering June 4 – and its Meaning for the Present from China Labor Bulletin

This year, as every year, China Labour Bulletin mourns all those who died in the brutal government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement on this day 20 years ago, and our hearts go out to the bereaved families, all of whom have paid a bitter price for their loved-ones’ fateful efforts to bring China peacefully out of autocracy. Many of the bereaved families, turning pain into strength, have continued to campaign for vindication of the dead and for an official apology from the government for two decades now. We, together with people of good will across China and around the world, salute their valiant efforts and reiterate our firm belief that, eventually, justice will prevail.

CLB Director, Han Dongfang a key figure in the pro-democracy movement 20 years ago, has written a personal commentary to commemorate the anniversary, Keeping the Flame Alive, which expresses the hope that China’s current generation of civil rights defenders and workers can realize the dreams of the Tiananmen Square protesters two decades ago, but without further bloodshed.

Every year on June 4, CLB publishes an updated list of worker activists imprisoned for their actions in defending the rights and interests of their fellow workers. While below, we examine the legacy of Tiananmen, and what it means for the people of China today.

THE authorities’ snuffing out of popular aspirations and demands for political change in June 1989 did not, of course, resolve any of the underlying problems in Chinese society. It simply drove them underground and allowed them to fester.

Terror works, if applied resolutely enough, and so the country has maintained an impressive veneer of social calm for much of the past two decades. But several of the main social and political problems raised by the students and workers in Tiananmen Square – official corruption, lack of freedom of association, and absence of democracy – have all basically been frozen in time for the past 20 years, with little discernable improvement. Indeed, thanks to the combination of a free-market economic system and a lack of public accountability for government officials, the scale and extent of corruption are running at an all-time high.

But what has changed, especially over the past five years or so, is the nature and tenor of popular protest and the general level of the public’s demands for rights in China.

Whereas 20 years ago, with the exception of the Tiananmen movement itself, there were very few workers’ strikes, protests by rural people or campaigns by urban residents against local government malpractice, today all these are happening, in cities and villages around the country, on a daily basis.

Collectively, this groundswell of locally based rights campaigns by ordinary citizens has been dubbed the weiquan, or rights defence, movement, and it represents the first time in China that the wider struggle for human rights has developed a real grassroots constituency. But what has massively boosted the significance and impact of this new movement is, increasingly, the direct involvement of millions of ordinary workers, especially the 130 million-strong migrant labour workforce.

Over the past five years or so, the relentless exploitation of workers – through low wages, excessive working hours and unsafe factory conditions – both by private entrepreneurs and by many state employers, has triggered a rising wave of strikes, collective public protests and even violent incidents by workers around the country. Many of these incidents have involved thousands of workers, but still workers are not permitted, legally, to form their own trade unions or, in practice, to collectively negotiate with employers on the terms and conditions of their labour. Unless and until they can do so, social pressure and public anger will continue to rise.

What China most needs now, 20 years after the forcible imposition of a false social and political calm, is to learn how to conduct – and to set up real, workable channels for – a sustained process of social dialogue and reconciliation. The best way to achieve this would be for the government to implement real political democracy, although the current prospects of that happening are seemingly negligible. However, a great deal can and should be done in this direction; its overall cost would be minor and the social benefits incalculable.

The country’s workers, for example, should be granted collective rights under the law, and they should be allowed and encouraged to engage in free collective bargaining with their employers, in order to ensure fair treatment and a safe working environment. Rural communities should be given a meaningful say in how, or if, their land is used for development purposes, and they should be given a fair and just stake in the economic proceeds.

And urban residents should be protected from arbitrary eviction and relocation at the hands of venal local officials working hand-in-glove with property developers.

In short, all these and many other disadvantaged groups in society should be given a collective voice and allowed to organize peacefully so they can articulate their needs and wishes, while those in power – whether it be the government or local private employers – should enter into a sustained process of free and respectful dialogue with each of with them, with a view to finding solutions that are both durable and mutually acceptable. Only then will the Chinese government’s much sought-after ‘harmonious society” start to become a plausible reality.

In conclusion: it is clear from China’s ever growing weiquan movement that the martyrs of June 4 did not die in vain. The flowers that adorn their graves have been well-tended and, despite the efforts of some in power to eradicate them, are now spreading to all corners of the country. These flowers, symbolizing peace, dialogue, democracy and national dignity, are assuming new shapes and colours, and are of a hardier variety and better suited to the much-changed environment of today. But they are the same species as before, and their fragrance is undiminished.


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