Thirty-one years ago on June 4, 1989, more than one million Chinese citizens gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in protest of their country’s communist deadlock and to demand a more democratic society.
Hundreds to thousands were estimated to have been killed by China’s People’s Liberation Army after military tanks plowed down protesters and troops fired upon them during their peaceful protest. Some estimates say as many as 10,000 were killed, according to a report by the Guardian.
A total death count was never released by the Chinese government. Those who weren’t killed ended up in prison after an estimated 10,000 were arrested. The Chinese government had imposed martial law and censored the entire event nationwide.
After the April 15, 1989 death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader and the only hope the Chinese had for democratic reform, thousands of students protested in Tiananmen Square days later, calling for a more democratic government.
Today, China would prefer that the world forgets about the humanitarian horror that happened in Tiananmen Square 31 years ago. Now, many Chinese people fight to observe the anniversary of Tiananmen Square, even though communist China would rather erase the event entirely.
This year, Hong Kong police banned the traditional annual candlelight vigil, The Wall Street Journal reported. Anyone who defies the ban will be arrested. Thousands poured into Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Thursday in spite of the ban, and lit candles and chanted pro-democracy slogans as they have done each year for the past three decades, AFP reported.
Some demonstrators have reportedly been arrested, however.
In China, fasting is the only way that this significant day can be remembered. The Chinese government has tight control and censorship within the country, and closely monitor citizens. The topic of Tiananmen Square is considered forbidden.
The U.S. State Department released a statement on Wednesday in honor of the 31st anniversary:
Today we honor the brave Chinese people whose peaceful calls for democracy, human rights, and a corruption-free society came to a violent end when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sent the People’s Liberation Army into Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, armed with tanks and guns. While the Tiananmen protests inspired the oppressed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to demand and achieve democratic change, the Chinese communist government survived with oppressive control of information and sheer brutality.
Thirty-one years later, the total number of missing or dead Tiananmen protesters is still unknown. The United States continues to applaud their aspirations, and the American people stand with the families still grieving their lost loved ones, including the courageous Tiananmen Mothers who have never stopped seeking accountability for their children’s deaths, despite great personal hardship and risk. We reiterate our call for a full, public accounting of those killed or missing.
We mourn the victims of June 4, 1989, and we stand with the people of China who continue to aspire to a government that protects human rights, fundamental freedoms, and basic human dignity.