Twenty years have passed since the great outpouring of support by students, workers, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens for a cleaner, more accountable, and more democratic government. Despite debates inside the Chinese Communist Party on how to respond, in the end, the leaders decided to call in the People’s Liberation Army against the people. Twenty years of enforced censorship have resulted in a generation that knows little about the events of spring 1989. Even international leaders are now urging the Chinese people to move on, ignoring the fact that past impunity breeds present and on-going abuses. In this issue, we present the stories of people whose lives were forever changed by these events, reflecting the unfinished challenge of justice and healing. They came from different walks of life, but all share a profound love for the Chinese nation and people. Their ordeals illustrate that resolving the national trauma is a precondition to building a better future for all of China’s people.
The Memory and Responsibility section begins with the personal account of Gao Wenqian, an official Party historian who wept when he saw a banner carried by a group of white-haired professors that read: “Having knelt down for so long, we have stood up to take a stroll.” For him, this was a crystallization of the politics and culture of fear that the regime had inflicted on its people. Chen Ziming gives us a moving portrait of Sun Liyong, a Beijing policeman, a “traitor” against his ranks, who paid an enormous price for criticizing the government after the crackdown. Wu Wenjian, in an interview with Liao Yiwu, recounts how, as a 19-year-old cook and an aspiring painter in spring 1989, he ended up in prison for seven years as a “June Fourth thug.” Hou Jie presents Wang Lianxi, a mentally impaired sanitation worker who got 18 years for burning military vehicles because he was outraged by soldiers firing on unarmed students. Ding Zilin is the mother of Jiang Jielian, age 17, who was shot dead on the night of June 3, 1989. She is also a founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group that has been seeking “truth, compensation, accountability,” but has been ignored by the government for 17 years. In her interview with Li Heng, Ding says that the government must account for its actions against the innocent in order to demonstrate something fundamental: its “respect for life.”This section ends with views of the events in spring 1989 from Tibet and East Turkestan.
In the Constructing Social Justice section, we feature two essays about the sustained impact of June Fourth on Chinese society: Wang Dan, one of the 19 students “Most Wanted” by the government after June Fourth, argues that the June Fourth crackdown was a gateway to the rampant, unchecked corruption that is ravaging Chinese society; and Hu Ping shows that China’s economic “miracle” was made possible by the tight political control that followed the June Fourth crackdown. He Qinglian explains why peasants, whose land is stolen by local governments across the country, have emerged as a major force in social resistance. In a discussion on political legitimacy, Teng Biao asks how a regime can justify its rule without the explicit consent of the people and views Charter 08 as a historical document that challenges such a regime. The section ends with an essay by Yi Ping, who reminds us of the importance of poetry: though it cannot stop tanks, it nourishes and irrigates life.
Also included in this issue is a list of prisoners who are believed to be still imprisoned for June Fourth-related activities. We urge our readers to send letters to the Chinese authorities (we have provided a sample) to urge them to take the upcoming opportunity of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China to grant special pardons to these prisoners and let the healing begin.
Executive Director, Human Rights in China