Blood in Tiananmen

We’ve all seen the photo. Some of us have put it up on our wall. There are few more primal symbols of the power of individual rebellion than Jeff Widener’s single shot of one unidentified Chinese man standing in front of a line of tanks.

There had seemed so much right with their movement, their ideals, the spontaneous coming together across political creeds and backgrounds to demand freedom, to build a towering “Goddess of Democracy,” which they then brought forth to challenge Mao’s old, looming portrait.

For a shining moment, it seemed like she was winning.

It is 20 years since June 5, 1989. Twenty years since a peaceful uprising of students, intellectuals, rebels and working people that seem poised to set free the world’s most populous nation finally ended in blood and tragedy in Tiananmen square.

Below the fold are some photos that you may not have seen. Some are, to give fair warning, quite gruesome, but they reflect reality: over a thousand people that lost their lives trying to push their part of the world in a better direction.

In a time when most interest in China involves how much money can be squeezed from it, Tiananmen has faded into memory for far too many. It is more important than ever to remember the atrocities its government committed — and still commits — to keep its stranglehold on power. News of the Chinese government ramping up censorship before the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacres serve as a stark reminder of the things that have not changed.

The truth cannot die. Nothing will erase the reality of what was done. It is a reminder too, that there is nothing inscrutable about the East, that hundreds of thousands were willing to risk and sacrifice for the same goals sought around the world.

Some things should never be forgiven — or forgotten.

8 Responses to “Blood in Tiananmen”

  1. Emil P Says:

    In the unlikely event you haven’t seen it, FRONTLINE did an excellent episode on the event, and the entire show is available online at;

    It’s really superb, beyond even their usual very high standard.

  2. Jennifer dG Says:

    I was in China on a university trip three years ago, and it happened that I was in Tiananmen Square the day before the anniversary of the massacre. As a group of us gathered to quietly discuss what had happened, police officers slowly began to surround us. They kept their distance, watching us out of the corner of their eyes as we talked. It was intimidating and made me realize the courage of the students who stood up to an oppressive government.

    The Chinese government has done everything they can to rewrite history as if the massacre never happened. Many young Chinese people, themselves University students now, don’t know anything about it.

    Thank you for this post. I was eleven when this happened, and remember being so shocked. I think it was my first moment of real political consciousness.

  3. Tequila Says:

    The whitewash by the Chinese Government has proven so futile it’s amazing they still try to be so hardline about it. Hardliners within the party is what lead to the ultimate crackdown and they continue to essentially build upon its importance by being to rigidly against it.

    They know they can only control the perception of it within their immediate zone of influence. The rest of the world knows the reality, and the numerous books, images, and official documents (as collected in the highly controversial The Tiananmen Papers) can be easily found.

    I remember the PBS feed since it was uninterrupted at the time. The rest of the networks carried the story but as a kid it was easy to see that something was wrong. The iconic image that followed became burned into us as THE definition of defiance, bravery, and pure unfiltered frustration.

    The above Frontline episode is really good, hope many see it. The History Channel also had an excellent documentary easily found online via many torrent sites. It’s the best documentary out to get the events prior and up to the crackdown in an understandable light. It focuses a lot on what went on within the protest, how its more radical elements took hold as it grew in supporters, and the behind the scenes power plays that went on. You can see the slow burn of it.

    As horrific as the massacre was one has to focus also on the events before it. The hunger strike and the near success that was almost gained, how the students and protesters did get the government to the table so to speak. That was amazing in and of itself. The horror will at one point be forgiven and no doubt a memorial one day will arise…but for now the best many of us can do is try to keep the reality of what occurred alive. It’s one of the few cases where the borders beyond China need to preserve an important part of its history for its own long term good.

    Protest is alive and well in China…it’s only a matter of time before the stranglehold cracks.

  4. john colby Says:

    Some history on the “godess of liberty and democracy” .What is known as the statue of liberty was orginally intended for the opening of the Suez Canal . It and 12 other smaller but identical pieces were made and given to many nations. There is still on in Japan and france. The German one was destroyed in ww2.

  5. Kale Kip Says:

    About a year ago, I did a few interviews with Chinese environmentalists in the runner up to the Olympics. I spoke with them about democracy, Tiananmen Square, the crackdown on Falun Gong and the Tibetan uprise. Regardless of censorship on the internet, the phones work perfectly in China and you can easily call these guys and ask them stuff.
    At least for the people I spoke to, they seemed to believe China was definitely moving towards a more open society, which they see as something that is inevitable in the process of economic and technological development.

    But of course, their daily reality was a rather repressive government that wasn’t always fond of their activities. They told me that in China, people are terrified of what happened in the USSR after the fall of communism. They also look a lot at the complete failure of democracy in Iraq. At least the Chinese I spoke thought it was impossible to demand a country to install a democracy overnight. They believed it would take a gradual process over several decades. I tend to agree with them.

    Thinking in terms of overthrowing dictatorial regimes or breaking a stranglehold might not be the best approach to social change. The present day tendency in China works more with the idea of loosening the grasp of the government, building a civil society, showing the different factions in the party, that kind of thing.

    Sure, Tiananmen shouldn’t be forgotten. And we definitely need to be reminded of the things that have not changed. But we also need to look at the things that actually are changing and support the actors of change. They are there:

    Check out this book if you are interested in social change in China:

  6. Guan Yu Says:

    This week is bringing back so many memories

    Singing “The Internationale” because it was the only song everybody knew.

    The smell of the place after a month of protest.

    A man covered in blood yelling at me, “Take pictures! Take pictures! Tell the world what is happening here!”

    A friend shouting at me, “Grab your bicycle”.

    (She wasn’t worried about me loosing my bike. She was afraid the government was going to trace everybody using the registration plate on the bike.)

    The complete silence the next morning, the only sound being military traffic and the pop pop pop of troops shooting in the air to scare people away from their windows.

  7. Faith Says:

    Bravo for posting this!

  8. R. Says:

    It’s almost funny how some young people do not even care that this happened. Funny in the sad way that some people don’t care the Holocaust happened or that it was pretty much legal to hang people to get your jollies off. If we forget the history that brought us to the present then we will repeat it over and over again until finally we get it right. Too many young people are forgetting their history or just not caring. It’s time people remembered the past and remembered why still some people fight so hard against whatever is oppressing them. This should remind us why we fight.

    Thank you, David, for reminding me.