China Brief, Volume 2, Issue 12
Remarks at the 13th Anniversary Candlelight Vigil in Washington DC on June 1, 2002
By Wang Dan
Translated by Ying Ma
It has been thirteen years since the June 4 massacre. I continue to remember with a guilty conscience those who perished. As my sense of responsibility grows heavier in the face of a harsh reality, I can no longer remain silent about the 1989 Democracy Movement or the Tiananmen legacy.
Each year, events are held overseas to commemorate the lost souls from June 4. Even under the most dire conditions, many still persist in seeking justice that history has so far denied, as evidenced by the Tiananmen Mothers’ Campaign, organized by Mrs. Ding Zilin. As we–the participants of the 1989 democracy movement–assess our own mistakes, we continue to believe in the righteousness of our struggle. Yet despite these positive signs, the distortion and dismissal of the 1989 democracy movement in Chinese communities within China and overseas have never ceased.
As time passes, as China’s economy grows stronger each year, as a new Chinese middle class emerges and as material goods become more abundant, the blood of the June 4 martyrs is gradually being washed away by amnesia and apathy. The movement’s value and meaning has become increasingly less significant. It is almost as if the responsibility for the gravest tragedy of post-reform China is no longer born by the murderers but by those who sacrificed their lives.
After the massacre, the Chinese Communist government employed and still employs its massive authoritarian powers to rewrite history and induce forced amnesia amongst the Chinese people. The means have included brutality, repression, propaganda, distortion of truth, bribery, blackmail and the like.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, because these means are the inherent vehicles of authoritarian rule. I used to believe that if China’s intellectual elite and its ordinary citizens could maintain their humanity and conscience, albeit only silently, that if the post-June 4 generation could be educated by society, then an accurate picture of history might still be constructed.
At least the younger generation of Chinese would have the opportunity to understand their government’s barbarism and the tragic price paid by their brothers and sisters a generation ago. At least they would be able to distinguish basic right from wrong, and thus understand if not sympathize with those who keep the spirit of 1989 alive. If that were the case, even the efforts of the Chinese Communist government could neither distort the people’s understanding of the Democracy Movement nor successfully erase or confuse people’s memories.
Unfortunately, the degree of popular “forgetfulness” and the distortion of historical events are so prevalent and so shocking that it can no longer be attributed solely to the manipulations of the government. On the one hand, many of the 1989 participants are no longer willing to discuss the past or candidly confront their experiences. On the other, numerous members of the so-called middle class and intellectual elite have contributed to the distortion of facts as a way to defend their own amnesia.
Some argue that the need for social stability justifies government repression. Others argue that the 1989 movement in fact set back the cause of democracy in China and should therefore be condemned. Still others assert that the students were used by outside political interests to undermine the Chinese regime. In response to these accusations, Mr. Ren Bumei has written an excellent article in the June 2002 issue of Beijing Spring. I will not respond to each accusation here.
I would, however, like to point out that the cleansing of popular memory and the maligning of the true nature of the democracy movement have seeped into the popular consciousness. Half-truths or outright lies have become “common knowledge.” The Chinese people now carry a broken memory and a depressed spirit. When political apathy becomes fashionable, when social responsibility becomes negligible, it is difficult to imagine how a country could mature and succeed, no matter how impressive its economic growth. I cannot.
Like many others who maintain their conscience, the Tiananmen generation therefore has no choice but to confront the harshness of reality, to speak out publicly against repression, against amnesia, against factual distortion. Its only hope, our only hope, is to rebuild historical accuracy and the soul of Chinese society, both of which have been trampled upon by the Chinese government and the so-called elites.
We, the Tiananmen generation, will persist not simply for the 1989 Movement or those who perished on its behalf, not simply for the reform of the Chinese system, but more important, for a return to honesty in the Chinese consciousness. The stability and peaceful transition of the Chinese system will ultimately depend on such honesty.
Therefore, each year at this time we stand before you not just for us, but also for history. It is for the past as well as for the future. China’s future requires a resurrection of morality and a reconstruction of spiritual values. Let us commemorate June 4. Let us take the first step to combat amnesia and distortion.