Commentary

The Tiananmen Square Massacre Still Matters

Lee Edwards
By Lee Edwards | June 6, 2016 | 5:21 PM EDT

A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. The man, calling for an end to the recent violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. The Chinese government crushed a student-led demonstration for democratic reform and against government corruption, killing hundreds, or perhaps thousands of demonstrators in the strongest anti-government protest since the 1949 revolution. Ironically, the name Tiananmen means "Gate of Heavenly Peace." (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)

June 4 marked the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a day that will live forever in Chinese history, no matter how hard the Chinese Communist government tries to deny it.

On June 4, 1989, the streets of Beijing were filled with the sounds of machine guns and tanks and the cries of wounded and dying demonstrators.

Twenty-seven years ago, on June 4, 1989, the streets of Beijing were filled with the sounds of machine guns and tanks and the cries of wounded and dying demonstrators. The People’s Liberation Army was hard at work.

How many pro-democracy students died that blood-stained June morning? Hundreds? Thousands? The number is still concealed by the government, which insists that the army was called out to put down so-called “hooligans” and disturbers of the public order.

But the truth about the Tiananmen Square massacre, as documented by Chinese dissidents meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, cannot be denied. These survivors are also marking the 50th anniversary of another telling event in Chinese history—the infamous Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s personal revolution.

They are honoring in particular the bravery of Bian Zhongyun, the deputy principal of the Beijing Normal University Female Middle School, and likely the first casualty of the Cultural Revolution.

Miss Bian, along with four other educators, was attacked by the Red Guards on false charges. She died after hours of humiliating treatment and brutal beating. She was the first educator to die at the hands of the Red Guards, whose calculated cruelty is without parallel in Chinese history.

According to one reliable estimate, at least 3 million people died violent deaths during the Cultural Revolution. Post-Mao leaders acknowledge that 100 million people, one-ninth of the entire population, suffered in one way or another.

Is the China of today the same as the China of the Cultural Revolution or of 1989? Of course not. China has the second largest economy in the world because it opened its gates to foreign trade and investment and allows so-called “free market” communism.

But too much has not changed. Eighty percent of the Chinese economy is controlled by the government that still suppresses basic human rights like a free press, religious liberty, the rule of law, open elections, and an independent legislative body.

The Communist Party, under the neo-Maoist President Xi Jinping, dominates all aspects of Chinese life and society. And yet brave, determined human rights activists refuse to be silenced. At great personal risk, they continue to call for a free and democratic China.

We know from history that the road to democracy is not an easy one. It is long and winding and far from smooth, but the destination is well worth the sacrifice as the peace and prosperity of the free world amply demonstrate.

The day is coming, and sooner than the Chinese Communists realize, when China will be free. In January 1989, East Germany’s communist boss boasted that the Berlin Wall would stand for another 100 years. In November, the wall came tumbling down, and communism collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe. Dictators have always looked their strongest just before they fell.

Communist China is beset today by consequential problems: A slowing economy, a corrupt government, a dictatorial Communist Party clinging to power, widespread demand for fundamental human rights, a seriously degraded environment, and a PLA trying to establish a Chinese sphere of influence in Southeast Asia. These problems cannot be solved by a one-party communist state but only by a democratic government ruled by the people.

The day is coming, and sooner than Beijing realizes, when Chinese Communism will collapse, and the most populous nation in the world will turn for the first time in its history toward freedom and democracy.

Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation's B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics. A leading historian of American conservatism, Edwards is the author or editor of 20 books, including biographies of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and Edwin Meese III as well as histories of The Heritage Foundation and the movement as a whole.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.


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