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EDITORIAL | 34 Years After, Tiananmen Massacre is a Continuing Tragedy

The Tiananmen atrocity is not a tragedy of the past. Trying to bury the truth is oppression in another guise. China must learn to admit the truth.



A security official stands guard in front of Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 2, 2023. (©Kyodo)

June 4 marked the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. It was the date when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship used armed force to crush demonstrations calling for democracy. As a result, there were many casualties among the protesting students and other citizens. 

Commenting on the anniversary, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated the official Chinese government position adopted to legitimize the bloody crackdown. He declared that a "definitive conclusion" had already been reached regarding the historical incident. He added that the democracy movement had been an antirevolutionary disturbance.

Such a stance is totally unacceptable.

declassified records Tiananmen
Tanks roll over students in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

What Happened at Tiananmen Square?

Students began demanding "democracy" and "freedom" in Tiananmen Square in April 1989. It was just after the death of the reformist former general secretary of the CCP Hu Yaobang

Units of the People's Liberation Army were brought in to quell the demonstrations. Then, from the evening of June 3 through June 4, after several weeks of escalating protests, the PLA repeatedly fired indiscriminately on students and local residents in and around the square. 

It is an incontrovertible historical fact that the authorities used deadly military force to suppress a peaceful civil movement.

Although the Chinese authorities claim that only 319 deaths resulted, the general view is that such a figure is far too low. British diplomatic documents at the time estimated "more than 10,000 people" died.

A man (center) is surrounded by police officers while holding up an "electronic candle" in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay on June 4. (© Kyodo).

Cracking Down on Hong Kong

China should accept responsibility for the massacre and apologize to the families of the victims. Why were innocent civilians mowed down? The Chinese authorities must explain to the Chinese people what actually happened during the incident. 

Memorial activities in Hong Kong were permitted even after its reversion to Chinese rule under "one country, two systems." It was a tradition to hold a mass candlelight vigil every June 4 in Victoria Park. That is in the city's Causeway Bay district. 

A woman is commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown when security officials take her away. In Hong Kong's Causeway Bay on June 4, 2023. (© Kyodo).

However, since the Hong Kong National Security Law took effect in 2020, memorial activities have been effectively banned. There was also a memorial museum in Hong Kong dedicated to the events of June 4, 1989. It displayed artifacts of the victims and other items. However, it, too, was forced to close

If the Chinese authorities actually believe their statement that they are "adhering to the one country, two systems" formula, shouldn't they allow the remembrance activities in Hong Kong to continue? 

Participants offer candles at a memorial service for the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Held in Taipei on June 4, 2023. (© Kyodo).

Preserving the Memories Overseas

Meanwhile, the center of memorial activities has shifted from Hong Kong to overseas locations. A new museum that collects and exhibits artifacts of the massacre victims has opened to the general public in New York City.

In a statement released on June 1, Human Rights Watch listed the names of individuals who died at Tiananmen Square. The international human rights organization also reiterated the demand for a thorough investigation. It appealed to the Chinese government to accept responsibility for the deaths. Furthermore, it called on the international community to adopt a coordinated response, including sanctions against China.

People march through central London on June 4, 2023. They are mourning the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre in China 34 years earlier. (© Kyodo)

For our part, we should also remember that it was the Japanese government that took the initiative in lifting sanctions against China after the Tiananmen Square incident. Japan thereby lent a helping hand to the CCP regime, which was in dire straits due to the fallout from the incident. That decision reflected a disgraceful disregard for human rights.

The Tiananmen Square atrocity is not a tragedy of the past. Seeking to bury the truth is oppression in another guise. Based on serious reflection on how it acted at that time, Japan should join with other Western nations in pressuring China to immediately desist from its ongoing oppression.  

Marchers also protest against the Chinese authorities in New York ahead of the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. June 2, 2023. (© Sankei by Yusuke Hirata)


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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