Tiananmen anniversary passes with little public notice
June 4, 1999
BEIJING (CNN) -- Soldiers raised the Chinese flag over Tiananmen Square at dawn Friday as China tried to ignore the anniversary of its crackdown on a student democracy movement there a decade ago.
In the Great Hall of the People next door, China's leaders kept to their schedule, greeting a North Korean delegation. Premier Zhu Rongji claimed he had forgotten the anniversary completely.
The only signs of protest in the area were a man with an umbrella -- which, when unfurled, urged visitors to "Remember the 10th anniversary of the student movement." Police took the umbrella and hustled the man away.
Another man ran out of nowhere to throw a handful of pamphlets that denounced corruption, taxes and American imperialism -- but said nothing about the anniversary. Police chased him down anyway.
At the square -- most of which is closed for renovations -- a crowd of several hundred provincial tourists watched as soldiers marched beneath the giant portrait of Mao Tse-tung, the founder of the People's Republic of China, for the flag- raising ceremony.
Most people in Beijing went about their normal Friday business, not wanting to talk about the events of June 4, 1989, when China turned tanks and troops against demonstrators who had set up camp in the square, urging Chinese leaders to allow a more open, democratic society.
The calm was the result of a great deal of effort on the part of Chinese security agencies. China has rounded up more than 100 dissidents, including Democracy Party organizer Gao Hong Ming, who planned to publicly mark the anniversary. The government condemned them as traitors.
"There are a small number of people inside and outside of China who are scheming to stage activities in order to overthrow the Chinese government and undermine social order," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said. "These activities are opposed by the majority and are doomed to failure."
The Chinese army began attacking crowds in central Beijing late on June 3, 1989. Troops and tanks reached the square before dawn on June 4, forcing the last demonstrators to leave.
The clampdown ended seven weeks of protests that had drawn as many as 1 million people to Tiananmen Square and inspired demonstrations in other cities.
The assault is believed to have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands. The government has never given a credible account, and the number of people killed remains unknown.
Chinese leaders above all wanted to make sure the anniversary did not stir up anger over widespread unemployment and corruption. President Jiang Zemin has demanded "stability above all else."
Thousands were allowed to gather for a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, now a part of China, to mark the occasion.
"I want my son to know what happened in Tiananmen 10 years ago, to know the truth, so he'll understand the facts were twisted in history and that the truth should be told," one man said. But many in Hong Kong say the stagnant economy and rising unemployment are more relevant today than the events of 1989.
The leaders of the Tiananmen protests are today scattered across China and around the globe. The leaders, including Wang Dan, Wu'er Kaixi and Shen Tong, demanded Chinese authorities reverse their verdict on the movement and release those arrested.
Wang, now a graduate student at Harvard University in the United States, collected 106,200 signatures from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States from people calling for a reassessment of the Tiananmen protests.
He spent much of the past decade in prison and has kept a low profile since his release.
"Those students, those citizens who died -- they are the real heroes, " he said.
Last month, two relatives of victims asked Chinese courts for a criminal investigation of the crackdown. The action by a group of 105 victims' relatives and people wounded in the shooting is unprecedented in China.
The group also demanded prosecution of those they hold responsible -- including then-premier Li Peng, who declared martial law during the demonstrations. Li is now chairman of China's parliament and second in the Communist Party hierarchy.
Former student leader Li Lu, now a U.S. stock fund manager, said he still keeps in touch with many people he knew in the movement. But he has few hopes for change through the kind of activism he embraced at the time.
"Being a political activist is not going to change China, let's just face it. We tried 10 years ago. We had millions of people with us. It didn't work."
Despite the crackdown, Li attributed much of China's opening to the West in recent years to the messages delivered in Tiananmen square.
"In a sense, they killed the messenger, but were forced to take some of the message," he said.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.
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