On that day the Communist party sent tanks to clear protesters from Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing, killing hundreds of people, maybe more than a thousand. In the intervening years, China has systematically erased the evidence and memory of this violent suppression using its increasingly hi-tech apparatus of censorship and control.
We know this first-hand: one of us was present in Beijing in 1989, while the other wrote a book on Tiananmen’s legacy. Neither of us ever intended to become an activist, yet to broach the subject of 4 June publicly is to challenge the Communist party’s silence and counter Beijing’s attempts at excising this episode from history. Journalists generally shy away from taking political or ideological positions and yet, since China has for 30 years tried to deny its crime, the simple act of writing about it unwittingly tips us into activism.
Separately, we’ve witnessed the success of Beijing’s Great Forgetting. At public talks and in private conversations, we’ve been present at that split second when an eyewitness to the crackdown suddenly realises how their memories have been manipulated. We’ve both seen that moment of shock and discombobulation and heard various versions of the same statement: “I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. But I haven’t talked about it for so long that I’d put it out of my mind. Until this moment, I literally forgot I had been there.” [Continue reading…]