Tiananmen at 25: The Weekly Reading Round-Up

As the June Fourth anniversary grows closer, security measures in China continue to tighten. The anniversary’s approach has also coincided with a spate of terrorist acts in China’s western region of Xinjiang, where explosive devices detonated in a market on Thursday morning killed 31 people and injured nearly 100 more. In Shanghai, a visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this week brought with it intense security restrictions throughout the city, including armed patrols in my neighborhood (which is nowhere near where Putin was). Though Putin has departed, the armed officers remain. I’ve also noticed even more internet connection problems than normal, which is a common side effect of the government’s anxiety about people causing trouble on an important occasion like the Tiananmen anniversary. It’s likely that these measures will stay in place for at least the next ten days, if not longer.

• Buddhist monk Shengguan, who participated in protests in the city of Xi’an in 1989 and who has remained politically active since entering religious life in 2001, was arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” last Saturday, the latest activist detained as part of the pre-June Fourth clampdown.

• In a New York Times op-ed, novelist and blogger Murong Xuecun declares that “I, Too, Will Stand Up for Tiananmen.” He discusses how the memory of 1989 haunts the Chinese government, even as the country moves into a central position on the world stage:

On the surface the government appears to be stronger than ever, with over 80 million Communist Party members, millions of soldiers, and nearly $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves—yet it is actually so fragile that its leaders lose sleep when a few scholars meet and talk in a private home.

• After the June Fourth crackdown, protestors—especially the movement’s leaders, who were on the government’s most-wanted lists—had to figure out how to escape the country. An “underground railroad” soon formed and moved protestors south toward the British colony of Hong Kong. Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph recently traveled to Hong Kong and interviewed a triad member known as “Brother Six” who smuggled 133 students and intellectuals out of China and shared with Moore the story of how he did it. Political activists on the mainland and in Hong Kong were able to raise money and arrange visas for protestors to embark on new lives in the United States and Europe, but they had to turn to people like Brother Six, who had experience smuggling cars into China, to do the actual work of moving the fugitives from the mainland to Hong Kong in speedboats. Moore also spoke with four of the protestors who escaped from China, who recount their stories in a related article.

• One of the most steadfast organizations seeking the truth about the June Fourth massacre has been the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of mostly women whose children were killed in the crackdown. Louisa Lim profiles Zhang Xianling, one of the group’s co-founders, for NPR:

Her life is lived under surveillance, with a surveillance camera even trained on the spot where her boy died, to stop her from mourning her son in public. Her grief—her refusal to forget—is perceived as a threat.
She sees the camera as a sign of insecurity.
“Such a great, mighty and correct party is afraid of a little old lady,” she said, with typical brio. “They’re afraid of us old-timers. It shows how powerful we old-timers are, because we represent righteousness.”

• Earlier this week, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held hearings on the effect that 1989 has had on U.S.-China relations and domestic political development in China. Former ambassadors Winston Lord and Stapleton Roy testified at the hearings, as did Rowena He (author of Tiananmen Exiles), Liane Lee (who was in Beijing on June 4, 1989), and Jeff Wasserstrom (my advisor). There’s a video of the complete hearings at the link, as well as downloadable PDFs of statements by Ambassador Lord and Jeff, both of which I highly recommend reading.

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