Relatives of Tiananmen Massacre Victims Pay Respects At Cemetery

2019-05-28
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Relatives of victims of the Tiananmen massacre of civilians by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4, 1989 mark the 30th anniversary of their loved ones' death under close surveillance by the authorities, May 28, 2019.
Relatives of victims of the Tiananmen massacre of civilians by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4, 1989 mark the 30th anniversary of their loved ones' death under close surveillance by the authorities, May 28, 2019.
Tiananmen Mothers

Relatives of victims of the Tiananmen massacre of civilians by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4, 1989 marked the 30th anniversary of their loved ones' death on Tuesday, under close surveillance by the authorities.

You Weijie, spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group, posted video footage of several of its members lighting white candles in memory of their loved ones to social media, Tiananmen Mothers member Zhang Xianling told RFA.

"Every year around June 4, we lay wreaths for our lost relatives at the Wan'an public cemetery," Zhang, who is currently under round-the-clock surveillance by China's state security police, said.

"We refuse to keep a low profile, although we have never tried to have a high profile either," said Zhang, whose 19-year-old son died in the military assault on Beijing that began on the night of June 3, 1989. "We do what we need to do."

Nonetheless, the authorities have targeted the group's members for surveillance and curbs on public commemoration, year in, year out, for the past three decades, Zhang said.

"They didn't want us to gather together, but we protested about that, and so we were eventually allowed to get together," she said. "We were going to get together this year regardless of what they said or the measures they took."

"We keep up our resistance, keep up the fight, but in a peaceful, rational and non-violent manner, not [actually] fighting them," Zhang said.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" and "political turmoil," and the families of victims are demanding a re-evaluation of that verdict, as well as compensation and a public inquiry into the massacre, with the aim of holding the leaders of the time responsible.

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

The Tiananmen Mothers have been writing to China's National People's Congress (NPC) with their demands annually for more than 20 years, but have never received any kind of reply, only police restrictions.

Anger, grief and heavy-heartedness

Zhang said she has spent the past 30 years experiencing anger, grief and heavy-heartedness.

She cited a recent official history of the post-1979 era of economic reforms as typical of the attitude of the current leadership under President Xi Jinping, which sticks to the ruling party's description of the weeks of peaceful, student-led protests on Tiananmen Square as "political turmoil" and "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Zhang said the official verdict is a distortion of history, and called once more for a full inquiry, compensation and for those responsible for the massacre to be held to account.

Meanwhile, Beijing-based Zhang Baocheng, who was among a group of dissidents detained in April 2013 for posting a commemorative photo of themselves ahead of that year's massacre anniversary, has been detained and his home searched, sources said.

"They searched his home and apparently there was a firearm," a friend of Zhang's said. "It's pretty serious, anyway."

"They took away his computer and cell phone. We haven't seen any legal document yet detailing the formal reason for his detention," the friend said. "But the anniversary is fast approaching, so it could be [to do with that]."

And Hunan-based activist Ou Biaofeng was taken away on an enforced "vacation" by police to stop him from giving media interviews in the run-up to the anniversary, former rights activist Xie Wenfei told RFA.

"Ou Biaofeng was taken away to Kunming on vacation a few days ago," Xie said. "His usual cell phone number has been switched off."

"It's to stop him from talking to international media during the run-up to June 4," he said. "Some other people have been called in for chats [with police], so they know the score."

The death toll from the night of June 3-4, 1989, when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing, opening fire on unarmed civilians, remains unknown to this day.

While the Chinese government once put the death toll at "nearly 300,"it has never issued an official toll or list of names.

A 2009 map published by the Tiananmen Mothers listed more than 250 names garnered from confirmed eyewitness accounts and hospital records of those known to have died in the days after June 3, but it is unlikely to be an exhaustive account of casualties.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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