On 27th Anniversary, Relatives to Visit Graves of Tiananmen Dead

china-tiananmen-06032016.jpg Former 1989 student protest leader Wuer Kaixi speaks at the Parliament in Taipei on on the eve of the 27th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 3, 2016.

Relatives of people killed in a 1989 massacre of civilians when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) cleared Beijing of democracy protests with machine guns and tanks will be escorted to pay their respects at their loved-ones graves on the 27th anniversary of the crackdown on Saturday.

Zhang Xianling, a founder member of the Tiananmen Mothers victims group who lost her 19-year-old son during the crackdown, said she had been contacted by Chinese police to arrange the private memorial.

"They came to see me yesterday from the local police department and neighborhood police station, and they brought the issue up of their own accord," Zhang told RFA on Friday. "They asked if I had any requests, but I said no."

"They even asked if I wanted to have a doctor in attendance because of my age and my health is very poor," she said.

"I said I didn't need a doctor."

Zhang said there had been "some improvement" in the attitude of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to victims' families in recent years, with regard to memorial arrangements on the politically sensitive anniversary.

"But on the basic issues, there's been no progress," Zhang said.

Mothers still want justice

In the 27 years since the PLA crackdown, the Tiananmen Mothers have called repeatedly for a public inquiry into the massacre and the pursuit of those responsible.

They also want compensation, and a detailed account of who died, how and where.

The government styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests, sparked in April 1989 by the death of much-loved liberal premier Hu Yaobang, a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, with veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention during each anniversary.

Zhang, meanwhile, will be picked up by police officers at 8.00 a.m. local time on Saturday to make the annual visit to her son's memorial.

She said fellow victims including Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman Youjie would travel with her family.

"There are some families who won't be able to make it, including one from out of town, and another who are government or army officials, who have never come along," Zhang said.

Meanwhile, foreign students studying in Beijing are being "encouraged" to take vacation around the anniversary, when security is traditionally stepped up around Tiananmen Square itself.

An employee who answered the phone at the International Institute of Education in Beijing confirmed online reports that foreigners were being encouraged to leave the capital.

"That's right," the employee said. "A lot of students have gone traveling."

But she stopped short of admitting that the institute had encouraged them to leave while classes are still in full swing.

"Our students decided of their own accord to take a vacation," the employee said. "We haven't had any directive saying that they should go."

Elsewhere in China, rights activists said they would fast for a day on Saturday in honor of those who died.

Zhengzhou-based activist Chen Wei, whose husband Yu Shiwen is currently in pretrial detention for his part in an event marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre in 2014, said she would join the fast.

"It's a day of fasting and contemplation, to mark the 27 years that have passed since June 4, 1989," Chen said. "We hope that by fasting we can bring some peace to the souls of the departed."

"A lot of people are hoping that the June 4 issue will be resolved soon," she said, in reference to calls for the rehabilitation of those who died as peaceful protesters rather than "unruly elements."

"This would bring comfort to the families of the victims."

Hunan-based activist Xie Fulin said he had a list of 35 people who had signed up for the fast.

"I and my friends have all signed up for the June 4 fast; I have here a list of 35 names already," he said.

"We would also like to express our anger and strong condemnation of the regime that perpetrated this tragedy."

In Hong Kong, the only city under Beijing's rule to commemorate the bloodshed in mass public mourning events, activists have become increasingly divided over the political message intended by such events, however.

This year, student groups under the Hong Kong Federation of Students are organizing their own candlelight vigil on campus, staying away from the mass event planned in Victoria Park on Saturday for the first time in nearly three decades.

At issue is the use of this year's memorial event to promote democratic change in mainland China by event organizers the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China.

Earlier this week, the head of Shue Yan University’s student union editorial board, Ng Kwai-lung, likened Alliance activists to "pimps and bawds in a brothel."

Alliance deputy chairman Richard Choi said the vigils had played a crucial role in keeping memory of the massacre alive, however.

"If it hadn't been for our annual vigils in Victoria Park, where we call for a reappraisal of June 4, it's likely that the whole topic would have already been forgotten, suppressed by the Chinese government," Choi said.

"I would like more and more people to debate, and reflect and discuss it, including the younger generation, to broaden our social movement," he said.

Interest in China receding

Hong Kong's Economic Journal newspaper said in an editorial that most of the city's seven million residents attend the vigil to honor the dead, regardless of the political message.

"They are capable of making their own decisions, and they join the annual vigil out of their own volition," the article by columnist S.C. Yeung said.

"However, those who were born after 1989 obviously didn’t have an eyewitness experience of the June 4 crackdown, they didn’t see the massive march of about a million people on the streets of Hong Kong in support of the protesting students in Beijing, they didn’t feel the utter sadness and anger that Hong Kong people felt as the Chinese army killed the protesting students in Beijing," Yeung wrote.

Yeung said the reaction against the pro-democracy message of the Alliance is characteristic of a growing "localist" movement that wants the political focus to be limited to Hong Kong.

"Many of today’s students simply want to separate Hong Kong from China; they don’t want to know what China did in the past or what it will do in the future," Yeung wrote.

"For them, what is important is Hong Kong’s future and nothing else’s. They want to cut all ties with China."

Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman You Weijie told government broadcaster RTHK that there is "no right or wrong way" to mark the anniversary, however.

Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan, held the island's first ever commemoration of the massacre on Friday, as politicians called on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to  address human rights issues in its dealings with Beijing.

The tenure of newly elected DPP president Tsai Ing-wen comes after eight years of unprecedented rapprochement with Beijing under her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan and Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.