Human Rights Violations in China

Nipping It in the Bud: How Peaceful Demonstrations Vanished after 1989 in China

The Chinese Tank Man has become an international icon for the courage to pursue a democratic society. Not until I landed in the U.S. did I know and see his image, one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. I was stunned watching the unidentified man stopping the advance of a convoy of tanks through Tiananmen Square. I had lived in China for two decades after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and had never heard of what this brave Chinese man did on the morning of July 4th.

I graduated from Peking University in 1989 and was one of the thousands of students who actively participated in the demonstrations that urged the government to reform and move towards a democratic social system. After the military controlled the capital city, the Communist media said that students like me were misled and must be reeducated. At my university, the students who were not slated to graduate that year were ordered to have one-year training in military camps. Students who were to graduate that year, like me, were forced by the Communist Party leaders to attend brainwashing meetings every day before receiving our graduation certificate.

Erase True History from Media

During the short period of peaceful demonstrations in 1989, the common desire for freedom and democracy virtually united Chinese people from all walks of life. Newspapers and TV channels in China, although all being run by the government, reported live in Tiananmen Square. Journalists interviewed students and reported true news stories instead of propaganda. The more the public heard the voice of students, the more people joined the movement demanding a democratic change.

After the Communist Party suppressed the movement, those eminent journalists and TV anchors who professionally reported the student movement were either cancelled or arrested or forcefully disappeared. Across the nation, every radio station and every TV channel was forced to broadcast fake news – no one died on June 4th, 1989; the military did not kill anyone during the cleansing action that night; only soldiers were brutally murdered by mobs; students were used by anti-China foreign powers.

The government strictly censors public discussion of Tiananmen and goes to great lengths to scrub references to it from the internet. Extreme censorship and repeatedly lying blinded Chinese millennials and Gen Zers. My nephew was born in 1997; after receiving his first degree, he had an opportunity to continue his graduate school in a Western country. In China, he knew nothing about the Tank Man. Yet, he showed no interest in learning more about the 1989 democratic movement, even after he left China and went live in a free world country. My observation is that like millions of Chinese, he lives in fear; fear that the Communist government would make trouble for his parents and his own career.

This is a sensitive topic. It’s not good for us and our prospects to discuss it. The political environment here is getting tighter and tighter,” a Chinese student at Renmin University said nervously when a reporter asked her about the 30th anniversary of 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Another student simply repeated the government’s propaganda to respond to the reporter, “Western media is maybe trying to criticize China, trying to dig out something bad the government did.”

Nip It in the Bud

Erasing the true history from media, internet, and the human brain. This is not enough for a totalitarian regime. After 1989, we have not seen any large, influential student demonstration occur in China. However, on April 25, 1999, over 10,000 Falun Gong adherents gathered peacefully outside the government’s central appeals office to request the end of harassment and restrictions on publishing Falun Gong teachings and the release of jailed practitioners.

At first, the assembled Falun Gong practitioners were assured that the Party was not opposed to Falun Gong and agreed to the release of the detainees. Later, after the practitioners left and returned home, the Communist Party Chairman Jiang falsely accused Falun Gong practitioners of “besieging the Central Government Compound” that day. To eradicate Falun Gong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) created a subdivision of the Party to monitor, track, and persecute Falun Gong and other religious groups. Within three months, police arrested hundreds of Falun Gong adherents. The CCP government officially banned Falun Gong as an “evil religion” or “evil cult.”

After the massive demonstration of Falun Gong practitioners for religious freedom, the brief spring breeze brought about by the policies of reforming and opening to the outside world in the early 1980s came screeching to a stop. The CCP went rogue completely. “Nip it in the bud” became the de facto policy: anyone who dared criticize the Chinese Communist Party openly on the internet or assemble to plead for justice ended up in jail.

Sounds familiar?

On July 11, 2021, thousands of people across Cuba took to the streets, fed up with the lack of food, basic products, medicine, and vaccines to combat COVID-19, and most of all, fed up with 62 years of no freedoms. This became the first large-scale demonstrations in Cuba since 1994, and the largest since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. After the successful protests in July, hundreds of Cuban protesters were arrested. “Nip it in the bud.” I felt I could hear the CCP dictator Xi telling the Cuban Communist leader to do so.

Different from the 1989 Chinese students who contacted foreign reporters to let the world know what was happening, Cuban protesters used social media to broadcast to the world what took place. The Cuban communist regime shut off the internet and telephone services, pulling the plug on their connections outside the island. Reportedly, the key to the regime’s ability to do so was China. As Chinese companies have played a key part in building Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, the Cuban regime has established a system to control its people, just as the CCP has done within its own borders.

Sadly, the CCP’s “nip it in the bud” approach has been exported to Cuba, Venezuela, and other Communist countries. After 1989, peaceful demonstrations for freedom and democracy seem to have vanished in China, as every dissident and dissenter has been silenced under the CCP regime.

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” ― Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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