Today marks the 24th anniversary of the day when tanks rolled down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing towards Tiananmen Square, opening fire and killing an untold number of people, sending a fearsome chill through China’s largest grassroots democracy movement. Much has been said about China’s collective amnesia, as the events of that day have faded in the face of economic prosperity and a well-oiled censorship machine.
True to form, on the eve of the anniversary, censors banned even more words on weibo, China’s thriving, Twitter-like microblog service—including “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow.” But as we explored in The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China, citizens, many vowing not to forget, are pushing back. Internet memes of the iconic Tank Man photo have been making the rounds, including one incorporating the rubber duck art installation currently on view in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.
Still, authorities have the upper hand, detaining and warning well-known dissidents and blocking news coverage—and even praising the virtues of Internet censorship on today of all days. Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal reported on Twitter that his wifi was “mysteriously cut” as he was preparing his story about Tiananmen. The Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon reported on June 2nd that the BBC went black as it began a story about an “anniversary.”
But in freer parts of the world, including the special automonous region of Hong Kong, millions are remembering. Tens of thousands of protesters braved the rain in Victoria Square today to light candles to the victims and to the memory of Tiananmen.
So what can we do? We can pledge to not forget. We can join Liao Yiwu, Liu Xiaobo, and the thousands of writers and activists who continue to remember this day, in elegies, with candles, with howls mourning the dead.
Watch Liao Yiwu perform an excerpt from his poem “Massacre,” which landed the now-exiled writer a four-year prison sentence and a ban from publishingin the mainland.
As Milan Kundera famously wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Remember “the Lost Souls of June Fourth.” Share these links with your friends, and send letters on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia. And like many others around the world, we hope that President Obama will remember, too, when he meets with newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.