Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. On this day, students took to the city square in the center of Beijing to call for democracy and free expression. The People’s Liberation Troops responded with rifles and tanks, resulting in the brutal deaths of hundreds to thousands of innocent lives.
The anniversary is marked in China with:
The silence is not meant to honor the students that stood up for rights, but to erase their stand and their values from the collective memory. Systematic, state-run efforts go beyond simply wiping away history and attempt, what is perhaps worse, to dilute the power of knowledge itself.
Anniversaries like today are not simply a time to look back. As China refuses to learn from the pro-democracy protest, the rest of the world must. Democracy is losing ground in countries across the globe. Last year marked the 13th consecutive year of decline in freedom, according to Freedom House’s annual report. And China is offering a model to other authoritarians – of censorship, surveillance, and suppression.
In his final book, “The Restless Wave,” Senator John McCain described why this matters:
“We have more than commercial interests at stake in our relationship with China, and even those are ultimately poorly served by letting China abuse its citizens without protest or sanction. We must appeal and insist and condition relations on China’s progress toward a freer, more just society. The freer they are, the less of a threat they become.”
“Above all else, we must stand in solidarity with the imprisoned, the silenced, the tortured, and the murdered because we are a country with a conscience.”
Lest we may be tempted to despair in our current conditions, we also must remember Senator McCain’s hope in the human spirit to yearn for freedom.
“It might be many years, many decades before the human rights of the Chinese people are secure in their own country. But it will happen. It will happen because the rationalization that Asia isn’t the West, and Confucianism isn’t compatible with individual liberty, is a lie. It is natural for human beings to want to live without fear of oppression… Every generation of Chinese produces people who refuse to accept the state’s authority over their conscience.”
Today, we remember the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Chinese activists who have long suffered for the cause of freedom. And we recommit to what matters: our values that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights – among those, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to petition the government.