June 4 and Me

When they handed out the textbooks in contemporary Chinese history, I flipped eagerly to the relevant sections. I was astonished and disappointed to find the exact wording as that used by successive premiers...There was no other mention of the topic.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie
2009.04.28
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By Ziyou Min (pseudonym)

I never really thought June 4 had much to do with me, as I was only five in 1989, but now I realize we are intricately bound up together. The first I knew of June 4 was the news conference held by the premier after the National People’s Congress every year. Politics never bored me, and I used to watch the main news program a lot. But that was it. From my point of view, the China in my head was a good and great place, and there was no room for dissent.

One year, at the news conference, however, a foreign reporter asked the premier—I think it was Li Peng at the time—about June 4. He got a curt response: “The domestic and international political climates during the spring and summer of 1989 gave rise to ‘political turmoil,’ which the Chinese government took the necessary measures to pacify.” That was all.

At the time, I didn’t pay it much attention, but I noticed in subsequent years that there was always such a question posed by a journalist, and that the replies of subsequent premiers were identical down to the last character.

I started to pay more attention to the question of June 4. When they handed out the textbooks for my high school class in contemporary Chinese history, I flipped eagerly to the relevant sections. I was astonished and disappointed to find the exact wording as that used by successive premiers in those news conferences. There was no other mention of the topic.

That was when my doubts began: Was there something here that the government found hard to talk about? At that stage these were still only doubts, however. Later, when the Internet slowly made its way to China, I began to go online. Still, it took me a long time to find the answers, because whenever I did a keyword search for “June 4,” all I got back was a message saying something like “Server Not Found.”

Still later, I found out how to use a proxy server and tunneling software. That was when I learned about Radio Free Asia, and a new door opened to me. Through my clearer understanding of what really happened on June 4, 1989, I discovered a different world from that described by the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time I realized how easily my thoughts had been “unified” by the government. I too turned into an “angry youth.”

So, on the 20th anniversary of June 4, I have this to say to previous generations who spilled their sweat and blood that year: Thank you!

RFA’s Mandarin service asked its listeners in China to submit essays of up to 500 words related to the Chinese government’s deadly June 4, 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. These are some of their recollections.

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