The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests

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Many people (outside of China) have had the chance to come across this iconic picture of a young man standing in front of a tank. This picture was taken in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square protests led by Chinese students. The students first started gathering to mourn the death of the communist party general secretary Hu Yaobang who had previously started developing liberal ideas within the communist party and was forced to step down as a result of the growing hostilities that his ideas provoked. The students then started asking for the government to accept the views of Hu Yaobang on democracy and gathered in campuses and famous places to conduct hunger strikes and protests. These protests also happened during the visit of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and as Rebecca MacKinnnon says in her article China’s ‘networked authoritarianism’  “Students hoped that Chinese leaders would follow his policy of glasnost, the Russian word for “openness,” which became the catchphrase for a loosening of controls on the Russian press and discussion of political reform”.


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On the 3rd of June 1989, the Chinese government ordered the clearing of Tiananmen Square where thousands of Chinese (students and other citizens) were gathered to continue the protests. 218 civilians died during that attack with thousands wounded. Despite the major media turmoil this event created in the world, the Chinese government made sure that any discussion on the event was suppressed and to this day, China celebrates more the birth of Hu Yaobang than his death in fear of bringing back the memories of this event. Some terms related to the Tiananmen Square massacre are still censored by the “Great firewall” and the government controls any information available to the public on this event. The results of this control are heart breaking and the silence of the government is completely erasing it from the History of China. In 2005, a PBS documentary crew showed the photo of the man standing in front of the tank to many university students in Beijing. The majority didn’t recognize it at all. This shows how by creating the “Great firewall” and controlling the information flow, the Chinese government is not only depriving its citizen of the events happening now around the world, but also their own past. People outside of China who have no direct link with the event have probably viewed this emotional video more than the Chinese citizens whose freedom has cost these people’s lives. This also reminds me of the story told by one of my classmate who couldn’t find information about a protest his father was part of in mainland China and how he spent a lot of time searching for it on google once he was on vpn. I believe that the Chinese government risk facing more uproar by making it hard for its citizens to have access to these kinds of events so crucial to the past of their country, as they cannot hide it from them forever.

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