Some changes evident in China 7 years after Tiananmen massacre

June 4, 1996
Web posted at: 12:55 a.m. EDT

From Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- Thousands gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 to make a stand for democracy and against corruption. Eventually, tanks rolled in, and Chinese soldiers began firing. Hundreds of protesters were killed.

Tuesday is the seventh anniversary of the massacre, a natural time to review what changes -- if any -- have taken place in Chinese society since 1989.

Tiananmen Square

"Often times reporters and politicians (in the West) assume a lot of shades of gray in our own society," says filmmaker and China scholar Carma Hinton. "But they don't allow that for Chinese society."


Hinton conducted extensive interviews and years of research in order to produce "The Gate of Heavenly Peace," a documentary on the events leading up to -- and including -- June 4, 1989. Among her conclusions: it is time to move beyond the depictions of absolute villains and heroes of the times.

"I think, talking about '89, we would probably be doing a disservice if we were just hyping up the same slogans and hyping up the same tragedy and not paying attention to the nuances ... for the various levels where change could take place," Hinton says.


There are manifestations of change, Hinton says -- the obvious opening of China's economy, and other areas such as newspapers and magazines, non-governmental organizations, the courtroom -- where real change is quietly taking place.

But rather than focus on those changes, the West often focuses on the plight of a handful of dissidents who remain in prison.

Zhao Yu

Fifty-two-year-old Zhao Yu was one of the first intellectuals to be detained by police in the final hours leading up to the massacre in the square. Her legs and hands were handcuffed and she was taken away -- and kept in prison for a year.

Zhao was not actually charged with a crime until years later when the government found her guilty of leaking state secrets and sentenced her to six years in prison. Today, Zhao remains in prison where her son, Zhao Meng says she suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure, and a variety of other illnesses.

Zhao Meng

But Zhao Meng also says he believes his mother and the others are imprisoned as bargaining chips for negotiations with the United States and other Western nations.

Another June 4 anniversary arrives, bringing with it the memories of handful of dissidents who are still in prison and why they are there. But it is also important to see the big picture.

China is still an authoritarian society, but as Zhao Meng pointed out, one of the demands of the June 4 movement was to fight corruption -- something the government itself has since taken up in earnest.

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