Friday 20 April 2018

Activists want Tiananmen tribute

A Hong Kong woman reads a book in front of portraits of victims of the crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square (AP)
A Hong Kong woman reads a book in front of portraits of victims of the crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square (AP)

Activists in China are taking to social media to urge the public to wear black on the 24th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown on protesters who had camped out for weeks on Tiananmen Square.

The crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989, killed hundreds of people, possibly more. The Chinese government has never fully disclosed what happened on that day and branded the protests a "counter revolutionary riot".

It remains a taboo topic in the country but the growing use of Twitter-like sites known as Weibo and other social media, although largely censored, has made it difficult for authorities to control all information about the Tiananmen crackdown.

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said he had been appealing online for people to wear black T-shirts on Tuesday or light a candle at home to remember the event. "Thanks to the role of Weibo, there are now more people than any other time in the past 24 years that have come to know and think about the incident," he said.

While protests in mainland China are off-limits, tens of thousands of people have gathered to mark the anniversary in past years in Hong Kong's Victoria Park. The territory operates under a separate political system that promises freedom of speech and other Western-style civil liberties.

"When the spreading of information gains momentum, sooner or later, one day a torch will be relayed from Victoria Park in Hong Kong to Tiananmen Square in Beijing," Hu said.

An academic from Guangzhou, Ai Xiaoming, said she was answering an artist's call on Google Plus for people to send photos of themselves wearing black for an online photo collection to mark the anniversary.

"More and more people would like to know the truth about the incident, which makes the authorities more nervous," she said. "Although it's difficult for people to get access to publications in China, they are able to get information through channels such as social media... the information can't be completely blocked. People have never stopped remembering the incident."

The event has left deep, emotional scars on some of those involved in the crackdown. A former People's Liberation Army soldier who was deployed at the age of 16 to the vicinity of the square to help clear out the protesters said the crackdown forever changed his perspective.

"When you're holding your gun and facing a lot of students, and you know that they are students, your heart is filled with a deep terror," said Chen Guang, now a Beijing-based artist. He has painted a number of pieces depicting the aftermath of the crackdown as a way of remembering the event.

Press Association

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