The Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred 25 years ago, with troops moving into Beijing and the Square by late on the morning of June 3 and with a full assault going on by the early hours of June 4. Estimates of deaths range from the hundreds well into the thousands, with many more injured. This was a comprehensive military attack on a nonviolent protest movement that had been in the heart of the capital of the People's Republic of China (PRC) for seven weeks and with attendees in Beijing alone topping a million people and with duplicate protests occurring at over four hundred other cities around the PRC. While international audiences may recall well the searing image of "Tank Man" standing his ground in front of a column of armored oppression heading towards the square, if you ask a citizen of the PRC about the events of June 4, 1989, you'll find that people are usually truly unaware or too afraid to speak since the government has removed all references and banned public discussion and literature on the event, even going so far as to shuttle current foreign students away from Beijing for the anniversary.
These events would be disturbing in and of themselves. The deaths, injuries, and decades of fear that have been lived by hundreds of millions of citizens of the PRC represent a horrific denial of basic human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) for a sizable portion of the planet. The actual actions and the aftermath are compounded by the denial of history and censorship of any discussions in China. Can you imagine the United States enforced a ban to learn or speak about the shootings at Kent State, when the National Guard killed four people and injured nine on an American campus? Now imagine if Kent State involved hundreds or times more fatalities and thousands of times more injuries and the conversation were still squelched, with threat of criminal prosecution, for decades. But the PRC does not content itself to keep oppression in the past and to move forwards, not at all.
In the past few years, there have been substantial attempts to interfere with Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy; there have been swaggering conflicts between the Chinese military and neighboring nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; there has been an ongoing attempt to erode democratic culture in Hong Kong and Macau; the PRC has propped up truly sinister regimes internationally (North Korea with direct alliance, Sudan with economic agreements); and they have kept a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiabo, in prison since 2010. This is not the way that a country behaves when it either respects human rights or tries to transition forward to an international framework of behavior. Against this backdrop, the erasure of Tibetan and Uyghur culture continues along with many other ethnic minorities; persecution against Christians and Muslims continues as it does to other religious practices; the damming of the Mekong continues with disastrous ecological and economic results for the five nations downstream; and the level of pollution continues to increase to levels that are requiring the scientific community to revise their understanding of just how polluted air can possibly get.
China has a force to be reckoned with. It was long shackled by colonization and interference by nations committed to extracting their own benefits without consideration for China's people or culture. But this country that was once termed a "sleeping giant" has been awake and modernizing for decades now. China clamors to be taken seriously and to have a place at the table of the international community. Just as you'd probably not reinvite a guest to dinner if they were poorly behaved, participation in international frameworks and agreements are contingent on good faith efforts to live up to human rights agreements that are not merely in force, but which have been signed by China itself. China must reckon with its past and move into the future. They deserve help and support in doing so where needed, but there are things that can be done now: speak openly about Tiananmen Square; release Liu Xiaobo; respect cultural differences and religious freedoms within China; stop threatening violence against Taiwan and stop interfering with their functioning democracy; recognize that we all must share the resources of one planet; begin reforming to respect all human rights.
What can be done? Write your representatives an actual pen-and-paper letter is best, give them a phone call if you need to, or at least send an email. See www.contactingthecongress.org for contacting your Representative and Senator. Ask them to continue to monitor the human rights record in the People's Republic of China. Ask them to carefully watch intrusions upon Taiwanese sovereignty (to say nothing of other nations in the South China Sea). Ask them to resolve to communicate support for parole for Liu Xiaobo, who will be formally eligible on this coming Sunday (June 8). Three steps, all achievable immediately, no matter how far the journey to come for all the world to respect human rights. Human rights are Chinese rights too. The PRC has an international obligation to fulfill. Remind your representatives that you know so.
At around 10 p.m. on the night of June 3, 1989, about ten kilometers west of the Square, Song Xiaoming was killed when the 38th Army opened fire on protesters. He became the first fatality in the massacre. Don't let Liu Xiaobo become another one as the PRC tries to squelch Charter 08. Don't let Taiwan's democracy succumb to PRC threats. Don't let the human rights aspirations of the Chinese people fall victim to the disregard of the PRC government without speaking up. Please contact your representatives today.
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