Tens of thousands of people attended a vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, calling on China to vindicate the student movement that led the protests, Bloomberg reports:
Visitors to the event at Victoria Park were greeted with loudspeakers broadcasting slogans and banners demanding an end to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. A human-sized Goddess of Democracy statue stood in the park, where many were sitting. As night fell, hundreds lit candles and observed a moment of silence at 8:38 p.m. after organizers placed wreaths to commemorate those who lost their lives.
Some estimates put the crowd at up to 180,000-strong.
Tiananmen is generally thought of as a student movement, but there was also a great deal of worker participation, as workers, students, and other participants had the same goals, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan.
“They all wanted the ruling Chinese Communist Party to open itself up to dialogue with society over issues of corruption, reform, rule of law, and citizens’ rights,” he writes for the Shanker blog:
A group called the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation took shape during the movement under the leadership of Han Dongfang, then a young railway worker ["one of the few activists from Tiananmen who has been able to translate ideals into real change for thousands of Chinese"]. Today he leads an important worker rights organization, China Labour Bulletin, that works on Chinese labor rights issues from its office in Hong Kong. Outside of Beijing, demonstrations occurred in more than 300 other cities, also with worker participation. Some of the harshest penalties after the crackdown were imposed on workers, rather than students.
Looking back on the Tiananmen movement, it is striking how modest the protesters’ demands were: an end to press censorship and restrictions on demonstrations; openness about the income of state leaders; increased funding for education, notes Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
“Since then, China has made progress in many ways: building a modern economy, lifting hundreds of millions from poverty and becoming an influential power. It is hard to imagine how granting the demonstrators’ demands would have held back any of this progress; on the contrary, China could have advanced even further and shared those advances with even more of its people,” he writes for The Washington Post.
Eventually, China’s communist leaders may find their efforts to suppress memory backfire, the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Ellen Bork writes for The Daily Beast:
According to Min Xin Pei, a scholar of totalitarian transitions at Claremont McKenna College, half of China’s population was born after 1976. They don’t remember the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution in which millions were sent to perform manual labor in the countryside, as marauding Red Guards sowed paranoia among family and friends. Might this contribute to a change of rule one day? “The basis of rule of all authoritarian regimes is one simple fact—fear,” Pei told an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“A psychological shift can come very very quickly.” What that shift will bring, no one can say for sure. But the world will have had at least 25 years to prepare for it.