Twenty-Five Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China's Still Trying to Muffle Its Memory | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Military police during the ceremonial lowering of the Chinese flag in Tiananmen Square. (Paul Souders/Corbis)

Twenty-Five Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China's Still Trying to Muffle Its Memory

Stories and photos preserve the memory of the massacre that is all but a mystery to many young Chinese

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Twenty five years ago, at Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Chinese military forces killed anywhere “from several hundred to more than 2,000” protestors. Today marks the 25th anniversary of what the New York Times calls “China's most significant political event in a generation." But for many people, the Tiananmen Square massacre remains shrouded in mystery—just like the death toll.

Even today, and especially in the run-up to the anniversary, China's censors have been working to erase any mention or conversation about the events that took place at Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, says Dan Levin for the New York Times.

There's no mention of the massacre in Chinese students' textbooks, and the events are excised from translated books, says Foreign Policy. Members of China's millennial generation, known as the jiulinghou, are scared to talk about it, says Foreign Policy, while the New Republic says young people will do so only under condition of anonymity.

The Chinese government has long tried to quiet talk about the massacre, but leading up to the anniversary, those efforts have increased, says Levin:

In recent weeks, the authorities have waged a particularly aggressive campaign against those who might seek to discuss or commemorate the events of 1989, detaining dozens of dissidents, scholars and legal defenders. Some of those detained are facing criminal charges, a development that rights advocates say goes beyond previous efforts to stifle public commemoration of the crackdown. In an effort to foil online discussion, code words for the crackdown, including “6-4-89” and “May 35,” have also been blocked.

And, says the Associated Press, the police were out in force around the region: “Dozens of activists, dissidents and other critics have already been detained by police, held under house arrest or sent out of the city.”

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, thousands of people gathered this morning for a candlelight vigil.

The international media, on the other hand, has been trying to highlight this bit of history. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation tells the story of the run up to the massacre, which came on the tail of months-long protests in which many as a million people rallied in the square to protest against rampant inequality. The New York Times and the Independent both had reporters on the ground at the time, and the papers are re-running their original stories. And Columbia University professor Patrick Chovanec has been “live Tweeting” the events for the past few days, reliving the news, says Macleans.

One of the most iconic images of the events was Associated Press photojournalist Jeff Widener's photograph Tank Man. Global, and the New York Times' Lens Blog in 2009 tell the tale of how the photograph was taken. Though the photo shows a man seemingly about to be run over by a series of three tanks, the scene as it played out was likely even more terrifying. In the original CNN footage, the unknown man jumps to stay in front of the tank's path, before eventually climbing atop the machine. No one knows who the Tank Man was or what happened to him, says Global News: “The identity of the Tank Man and his fate remain unknown to this day.”

Widener was not the only photographer on the ground at the time, and over at National Geographic they've put together a collection of photographs captured by David TurnleyThe New Yorker also has a slideshow of iconic imagery.

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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