When Chinese troops brutally suppressed demonstrations that had been growing on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, hundreds of people were killed.  As the 20th anniversary of the June 4 demonstration approaches, one mother still clearly remembers her son's death and is calling on the Chinese government to reassess its officially upheld verdict, that the demonstrations were counter-revolutionary. 

Tiananmen Mother

Retired professor Ding Zilin has not always been politically active.  Her activism began after a stray bullet killed her 17-year-old son, Jiang Jielian, near Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June Fourth, 1989.

"Everything seems like it just happened yesterday," Ding said. " To me, this trauma has never faded as the time passed.  The sorrow and pain gets stronger each year, as I get older."

Tragedy at Tiananmen

Ding's son was shot as he and a classmate hid behind a flowerbed, near Building 29, near the area of Beijing known as Muxidi.

He was just one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who were killed when Chinese troops moved in to crush student-led demonstrations that had been growing on Tiananmen Square.

Ding remembers how attendants washed "basins of blood" from her son's body before family members would allow her to see it.  She says his gunshot wound was still bleeding, even days later.

She found a piece of red ribbon her son had brought back from the Square, on a different occasion, and had attendants tie it around his forehead.

"I wanted him to have the red ribbon, the symbol of the 1989 patriotic democratic movement, which he wore with his favorite white shirt and school uniform.  The night he went to Muxidi, he was wearing a pair of sandals, but I gave him the sneakers he usually wore," she said.

Remembering Jiang Jielian

Ding's son was cremated on June 7.  She keeps his ashes at home, along with a fragment of the Berlin Wall, which came down the same year.

She says her son and young Germans shared some of the same vision. "These are universal values," she said. "They both were pursuing freedom and democracy."
Ding is one of the best known members of a group known as Tiananmen Mothers, made up of parents whose children were killed in the 1989 crackdown.

Tiananmen Mothers issue an open letter

The group this year issued what has almost become an annual tradition - an open letter calling for an official investigation, compensation to the victims' families and punishment for those responsible.

"It's not easy, with all these mothers.  We didn't know each other 20 years ago.  When we have disagreements, we think of our dead children, and we can quickly get over our differences," she said.

She says the Tiananmen Mothers share the same basic principle - opposition to the use of violence.

Ding's life has become devoted to honoring the memory of her son and she says this is an especially difficult time of year.  Jiang Jielian was born on June 2, 1972.  Ding says on that day, she buys a festive cake, to celebrate his birth, and then follows with a day of mourning right afterwards, to mark his death.