“The true warrior dares to stare the sadness of life in the face and to see the blood that drips there.”
Lu Xun, 1926 (as quoted by Perry Link and Andrew Nathan in “The Tiananmen Papers”)
In the early morning hours of April 18, 1989, thousands of students hung a white banner on the Monument to the People’s Heroes, in the middle of Tiananmen Square, that read “The Soul of China,” (in honor of Hu Yaobang, who had died three days earlier). After that, several hundred of them went to sit in at the entrance to the Great Hall of the People, and there they delivered to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress seven demands, which called for:
1) freedom and democracy
2) the repudiation of government efforts to “eliminate spiritual pollution.”
3) freedom of the press
4) the resignation of any senior officials who makes “serious mistakes”
5) making the central government subject to popular votes of confidence
6) the publication of the incomes of senior officials and their children
7) the unconditional release of all political prisoners
A month and half later, on June 3rd and 4th—18 years ago today—the students’ got their response.
As of 2004, according to Human Rights Watch, 143 people remained in prison for “crimes” committed on June 3rd and 4th, in connection with the events of Tiananmen. Who are they? What, specifically, were the crimes? Did they have trials? Have any of them been released since 2004?
I don’t believe my Shanghainese wife will live to see the day that the government here ever faces squarely the events of June 4, 1989, when it might answer these and hundreds of other questions surrounding the horrific events of that night. But I’m enough of an optimist to believe that our three year old daughter may. Governments can’t outrun events like this. No matter how much economic growth benefits vast numbers of people (as it does); no matter if liberty creeps ever so slightly into other aspects of life (as it has here, in the last 18 years); no matter how many young people there are who have no earthly idea what happened 18 years ago. People—individuals—may get away with murder; but the government won’t. Someday, in Beijing, they’ll summon the courage to stare the sadness of life in the face, and see the blood that drips there.