Claudia Rossett’s column on the 20th (now 25th) anniversary of the massacre at the Wall Street Journal is a must-read.
Go there for her eyewitness account. What I have excerpted here relates to her historical perspective and modern lessons:
What I Saw at Tiananmen
China will be a modern country when it no longer fears the memory of June 4.
June 4, 2009
It’s now 20 years since I ran through a cross-fire of tracer bullets, heading into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4 to witness the end of the uprising in which millions of Chinese, in the spring of 1989, peacefully seized control of their own capital and demanded democracy.
… Tiananmen was — and is — important because that spring of 1989 was the only time in the despotic, 60-year history of the People’s Republic of China that the people themselves enjoyed the chance to speak, debate and assemble freely. What they did with that freedom, by the millions, was call peacefully for China’s government to institutionalize those rights. They called for democracy and marched under banners bearing exactly that word. They asked for the right to choose their leaders and hold them to account.
…. Since the Tiananmen uprising of 1989, China’s rulers have loosened the economic strictures enough to allow remarkable growth — testament to the vibrancy of the Chinese people given even half a chance. Out of this, China’s rulers have devoted enormous resources to projects meant to suggest they run a modern nation — sending astronauts into space, convening conferences on the climate, and hosting the 2008 Olympics.
Count me unimpressed. The real sign of modernity will come when China opens up its political system enough so that the country’s leaders no longer fear June 4 but treat the Tiananmen uprising with the honor it deserves.
During the protests, on one of those warm spring evenings just before the crackdown, I was wandering around Tiananmen, notebook in hand, and came across a young man sitting in a beach chair on the monument where the demonstrators were soon to make their last stand. He had a question about what happens when you get your dream of democracy: What then? As he put it: “I know what China is dreaming. What is America dreaming?”
The answer of free societies, the old American dream, is that you may choose for yourself. Freedom, in the framework of a true democracy, allows individuals to weigh their own talents, skills and ambitions, choose their own trade-offs, and chart their own dreams. That gives rise to innovation, exuberance and prosperity of a kind that no government can plan or centrally command into existence.
China today supplies the world with a wealth of such stuff as gym shoes, extremely young gymnasts, loans to the U.S. Treasury, aid to North Korea, and investments in Iran and Sudan. But riches of the spirit are in short supply.
China still fears June 4. China is NOT a modern country.
Freedom isn’t just another word, folks.
Thousands died for it on June 4, 1989:
Someday, God willing, China will be free.
2014 Addendum: The iconic raw footage of a man refusing to yield to a tank —