News / Asia

Tiananmen Student Leader Says Change Begins With Questions

FILE: The Communist Party’s attack on demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square in 1989 is little more than a distant tale to young Chinese, including two photograhed in Beijing on May 7, 2014.
FILE: The Communist Party’s attack on demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square in 1989 is little more than a distant tale to young Chinese, including two photograhed in Beijing on May 7, 2014.
VOA News
They were young or not yet born when Chinese officials launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Growing up with the government’s ongoing campaign to suppress accounts of the massacre – of hundreds, maybe thousands, of unarmed civilians – has left many of today’s young adults with limited or misleading information about the seismic event.
 
“I heard the gunshots and asked my parents, and then they told me it was firecrackers,” said Cici, who was 5 at the time.
 
This week, the University of Maryland student was among seven young Chinese natives seeking a fuller picture from Shen Tong, a student leader during the massive, peaceful demonstrations leading up to Tiananmen.
 
“China missed a major opportunity to move forward,” said Shen, now an activist, author, entrepreneur, angel investor and U.S. citizen living in New York City.
 
Shen shared his perspectives on Tiananmen, on what he considers the futility of a government trying to revise history, on his optimism about the prospect of reforms, and on the power that people of all ages can exert by raising questions – albeit “from a safe place” – about everyday issues.
 
Shen and the seven students participated in a radio discussion organized by VOA and led by Jim Stevenson, host of “Daybreak Asia” and a co-host of “China Focus.” The students – all from mainland China, all educated at U.S. universities and all using American first names to mask their identities – are relatively close in age to what Shen himself was that fateful spring of 1989.
 
Unexpected political involvement
 
Shen was 20 and finishing his third year at Peking University. At the time, “I didn’t think I was political-minded,” he said.
 
Shen Tong, shown in a 1989 photo in Boston, Massachusetts, was a student leader in China's pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.Shen Tong, shown in a 1989 photo in Boston, Massachusetts, was a student leader in China's pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
x
Shen Tong, shown in a 1989 photo in Boston, Massachusetts, was a student leader in China's pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
Shen Tong, shown in a 1989 photo in Boston, Massachusetts, was a student leader in China's pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
Then the April 15 death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party general secretary, brought out crowds to honor him and press for more of the political and economic reforms he’d begun. Peaceful protests spread across the country, first among university students, then among people from all walks of life, with Tiananmen Square at the epicenter.
  
Shen was chosen to co-chair a student group that sought to meet with the government. The request went unmet.
 
 “The movement was very modest in its political demands,” Shen said, noting demonstrators primarily wanted China’s government to uphold the constitutional guarantees of free speech, free press and assembly. They also expressed concerns over corruption and rampant inflation, he added, “but those were not formal demands.”
 
Shen said the protesters saw themselves “as true patriots … asking for gradual reforms. … We were at that time in support of the Communist rule and in support of Chinese government in general. We believed in the system to be able to correct itself.”
 
Recommended reform  

May, a student at University of North Carolina-Charlotte, asked what reforms the current Chinese government should implement.
 
“We do not have to follow any existing model,” Shen said. The 1989 movement showed that “all walks of society shared the demands for greater individual freedom and a greater liberalization [of] pretty much all aspects of Chinese life.”
 
Cici asked what Shen hoped younger generations would learn about Tiananmen.
 
Shen told her about the importance of preserving history, saying that was a motivation behind his 1990 autobiography, “Almost a Revolution.” He wants current and future generations to have a fuller picture of Tiananmen, not just as a symbol of tragedy but as a source of inspiration.
 
“Nowadays, we remember June 4th [as] all tragedy and sadness,” Shen said. But for participants, it was “the exact opposite experience. It was a celebration, it was a carnival, it was a celebration of human spirit, and the shared, common responsibilities.”
 
Tiananmen’s history secure
 
He said he no longer fears that Tiananmen’s history will disappear.
 
“Such a collective memory cannot be erased at all,” Shen said, noting that Tiananmen remains a popular search term on Google and other search engines, especially around the June 4 anniversary. That’s despite the Chinese government’s annual clampdown on Internet access.
 
Fred, another UNC student, offered proof of technology circumventing government restrictions.
 
He learned about Tiananmen  “when I was still a high school student,” he said. “One day I logged into my email account and I found a strange email in my mailbox with a very big attachment. So that email actually included a short video and some picture about Tiananmen Square events. So that is my first time to know this issue -- from the spam.”
 
Lewis said he didn’t become aware of Tiananmen until 2009, when he was in high school. He learned more about it as a University of Iowa grad student, when a Chinese cinema class screened the 1995 documentary, “Gate of Heavenly Peace.”   Lewis also praised “No,” a 2012 film about Chile’s former military dictatorship, for a storyline encouraging citizens to set aside their fears – in that case, by casting votes.   
 
How to prompt change
 
The students wondered what it might take to bring about positive change.
 
Shen suggested it begins with asking questions – “within reason, within some safe zone,” he added, acknowledging some risks.
 
 “Pretty much everyone in China should think about why the air is so polluted, why the food is not safe, why millions of babies are poisoned by … milk powder,” Shen said.  A simple question asked will send a chain of reaction.
 
 “If you just ask a question,” Shen added, “… no matter how loud the propaganda machines are, you would be surprised” at the results.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sun from: Taipei
June 04, 2014 7:08 AM
PRC leaders are still repressing their people. In these 25 years, nothing has been improved in China mainland under the rule of the selfish communist party. PRC is steadily going the way linked to its collapse.


by: Anonymous
June 04, 2014 3:16 AM
I thought the Tianamen protests were originally about cafeteria food and student living conditions? The CCP is not the only one who is trying to rewrite history, but these things happen a lot anyways.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid