by Antoaneta Bezlova
(IPS) BEIJING --
before President Bill Clinton arrived on his
landmark visit to China last year, Ding Zilin sent him a memory-haunting
"I want to tell President Clinton, that the red carpet he will be walking on at the Tiananmen Square is soaked with the blood of our sons," she said of the visit that signaled how Tiananmen would no longer divide Washington and Beijing.
Ding's 17-year-old son was killed near the square on the night of June 3 to 4, 1989, when Chinese troops violently crushed a student-led protest for democracy and political change.
Hundreds, probably thousands of unarmed civilians died from the bullets and under the armed vehicles of the troops sent by the Communist Party leaders to smash what officials described as a "counter-revolution."
Ten years later, Tiananmen Square, the hallowed ground where the latest of China's modern political movements was born and died, still evokes the painful memories of violence and death that the government would like to erase from people's minds.
But that memory is hard to suppress. The ruling Communist Party still has not apologized for the dead and continues to maintain that the killings of unarmed civilians were necessary to preserve social stability.
Communist leaders argue there is no need to reassess the Tiananmen massacre. They say that if the 'incident on June 4th' had been wrongly handled, then China would not have gone through the past 10 years so "easily and smoothly" and would not have sustained such rapid economic development.
"With regard to the political disturbances of 1989, the party and the government have already drawn the correct conclusion and this will not be changed in any way," Li Peng said last year, before he stepped down as China's prime minister.
As premier in 1989, Li signed the martial law order and ordered the troops in Beijing.
His successor, the charismatic economic czar Zhu Rongji -- who some people had at first hoped might raise a voice in support of massacre's reassessment -- upheld the government verdict that 1989 demonstrations were a 'counter-revolutionary act'.
At a recent press conference, Zhu said that "in 1989 students wanted democracy but didn't want the rule of law."
Counters Peng Yuzhang, one of the victims of the June 4th crackdown: "Until the Communist Party comes out in the open and says the truth about Tiananmen, they can't claim China has a rule of law."
The story of Peng, a retired professor of Hunan University, mirrors the fate of those who survived June 4th massacre but fell victims to the political persecution that followed.
Peng showed active support for the students in Hunan throughout the 1989 movement and participated in their various sit-ins and hunger strikes.
After June 4th, he was arrested and thrown into jail where he was tortured.
For more than three months, Peng was kept attached to a 'shackle board' -- a horizontal plank roughly the size of a door, equipped with metal shackles at the four corners and a large hole at the lower end to allow the prisoner to perform bodily functions.
For Zhu Muzhi, president of the state-run China Human Rights Society, the crushing of the protests on June 4, 1989 had been somewhat like a crackdown on flies.
He says the economic reforms launched 20 years ago had opened up the country, but like opening a window "fresh air comes in, at the same time we also notice that there might be some flies and mosquitoes."
"As long as we have the tools to crack down on those flies and mosquitoes, it might not be a great issue," Zhu said.
Yet the leadership is afraid of the memory of Tiananmen. In the past few years it has worked painstakingly to avoid a repetition of what happened in the spring of 1989, when first workers and later low-ranking cadres, joined students in their demands for democracy and an end to corruption.
ensure there is no repeat of Tiananmen, the authorities have employed
They have allowed people some leeway to vent specific grievances, so that the social pressure does not build up. Minor protests by laid-off workers, destitute retirees and even religious cult believers have become typical scenes of China's life.
But the government has beheaded the political opposition by banning the fledgling China Democracy Party. The opposition party's leaders and prominent members have been tried behind closed doors and sent to jail.
Political dissidents outside the opposition party have been hassled and rounded up to prevent any alliance in the run-up to June 4. Using the pretext of "need for renovation", the authorities have closed off Tiananmen Square to prevent any mourning of the dead or attempts at demonstrations.
In recent weeks, the state propaganda machine has also used the mistaken NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in early May to stir up anti-foreign and nationalistic feelings and divert the public's attention from the sensitive Tiananmen anniversary.
State media has made no mention of the 10th anniversary of June 4th, when hundreds were shot dead. Instead, daily articles condemn the "barbaric act" of the NATO bombing which killed three Chinese journalists.
All this has not been lost on some Chinese. "People might have forgotten Tiananmen and the blood but the government remembers it," says Ren Shuyan, a middle-aged accountant in Beijing.
Adds Ren: "They know that justice in 1989 was not on their side and ten years on, they are still trying to cover up their wrongs."
June 7, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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