Chinese society is slipping into "general despair" and mistrust of the ruling Communist Party, according to an activist group representing the victims of those killed or maimed in the 1989 military suppression of a student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, 24 years ago next week.
In an open letter to the new administration of President Xi Jinping, who will shortly head to the U.S. for weekend talks with President Barack Obama, the Tiananmen Mothers said relatives of those who died had lived in "a hell-like darkness" amid repeated efforts to engage the government in dialogue.
"We have also been overwhelmed by fear and despair and engulfed by rumors and apathy," said the letter, which was published Friday on the website of the U.S.-based group Human Rights in China.
"We have campaigned year after year, tried to get back justice for the dead year after year. The government authorities, however, have remained unmoved," it said.
"All the hopes we have cherished are gradually leaving us, and despair is increasingly drawing near," the letter said. "During these long 24 years, we Tiananmen Mothers have suffered profoundly."
The group, which has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government, hit out at successive generations of Chinese leaders, all of whom had failed to pursue meaningful political reform.
"The more dialogue we have, the more civility and law and order, and the less ignorance and tyranny," the letter said. "Dialogue leads society not toward confrontation or hatred, but toward tolerance and reconciliation."
"The government authorities have never responded to the above proposals; they have pretended not to hear," it said.
The letter comes as Chinese authorities tighten security measures against political activists, dissident intellectuals, and public interest lawyers ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary of the bloodshed, in a bid to clamp down on public memorial events.
Guangdong-based writer and commentator Ye Du and rights activist Yu Gang are being held under house arrest with no access to the Internet, while Guangzhou rights lawyer Tang Jingling has been taken by police on an enforced "holiday" since Thursday, the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed statement.
Dissident Liang Songji has been held incommunicado since Wednesday, the group said.
Earlier this week, Chinese authorities banned online discussion, and searches linked to the words "24th anniversary" and "demonstration" were blocked on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo from May 25, according to the China Digital Times, which monitors online and mainstream media censorship.
Police also detained three activists who applied to hold a memorial march on June 4 in Guangzhou, and handed 15-day jail terms to activists who tweeted about the anniversary.
In the central province of Hunan, Tiananmen veteran activist Luo Qian is being held in a hotel by police, while Huaihua city activists Zhang Shanguang and Li Jianjun have been incommunicado for several days, CHRD said.
Rejecting the West
Official media on Friday issued a strongly worded commentary rejecting "Western" notions of democracy and urging China to retain its "self-confidence."
A commentary in the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper said China should "hold unswervingly to the Chinese road, and maintain the guiding role of Marxist ideology."
"Theories from the West, along with neoliberalism and socialist democracy, are not appropriate to China's national situation," the paper said. "Neither are they in the basic interests of the Chinese people."
Shenzhen-based activist Zhu Jianguo said the article was self-contradictory, however.
"The Chinese Communist Party was itself founded on the basis of the West's Marxism," Zhu said.
"Democracy and freedom are at the heart of Marxism; so much of what Marx wrote targeted the censorship of books and newspapers by the Prussian government, and their interference with press freedom."
Call for 'truth'
Former 1989 student activist Ma Shaofang said the events of the spring and early summer of 1989 should be allowed to enter the official record.
"When the truth is written into the history books ... then it will always be remembered," Ma said.
"Without the truth, we can't begin to talk of forgiveness ... The lack of reckoning with the truth is an insult to the dead, in my view," he said.
Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed in the wake of the crackdown, said she had met a woman in her sixties serving a sentence in Beijing's Yanqing Prison in 1995.
"She had been sentenced to 15 years for burning military vehicles," Gao said in an interview on Friday. "Her surname was Hu. Every time you brought it up with her, she would burst into tears, and say she had never burned a military vehicle."
The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a “counterrevolutionary uprising,” has not issued an official toll or name list.
The crackdown, which officials styled in a news conference at the time as a necessary way to suppress a counterrevolutionary rebellion, sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, says it has confirmed 186 deaths, not all at the hands of the army.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.