Eyewitnesses of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

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Two must-read articles for today, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, when the Chinese army, under orders from the Communist government, crushed a peaceful protest for democracy and liberty, killing hundreds.

Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal was there in the pre-dawn hours of June 4 when the tanks rolled in to Tiananmen Square:

Tiananmen was -- and is -- important because that spring of 1989 was the only time in the despotic, 60-year history of the People's Republic of China that the people themselves enjoyed the chance to speak, debate and assemble freely. What they did with that freedom, by the millions, was call peacefully for China's government to institutionalize those rights. They called for democracy and marched under banners bearing exactly that word. They asked for the right to choose their leaders and hold them to account.

When China's Premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 19, just over two weeks before the actual crackdown, the people of Beijing set up bus and truck barricades and camped out in the streets to block any army advance. More whimsically, they created obstacle courses of noodle carts and potted plants. They were looking not for violence but for liberty. In the words of one white-collar worker, typical of many who helped man the barricades, "I think the most important thing for China is democracy and freedom."

And when China's rulers finally ordered the army to open fire and move in, these protesters tried desperately to hold their ground. Behind me as I ran into Tiananmen Square in those early hours of June 4 was a huge crowd -- ordinary citizens, not students -- who had poured into the streets, trying to stop the soldiers from reaching Tiananmen....

Near [the Statue of Democracy], which China's rulers had labeled "an abomination," I watched a handful of young doctors working out of a makeshift medical tent -- themselves in the line of fire -- trying desperately, in blood-stained smocks, to treat demonstrators hit by bullets. During a half hour there, I saw seven wounded rushed in. Then I moved away, fearing it was too dangerous. Before I left, I asked one of the doctors if he had expected the army would open fire. He answered, "Of course."

If you were watching in 1989, you recall the remarkable scene of a young man, carrying shopping bags, standing in the path of a column of tanks. When the tanks tried to go around him, he moved to block them again, eventually climbing up on the lead tank before being captured and led away. No one knows who he is or what happened to him.

Four western photojournalists who got shots of the confrontation from a nearby hotel provided reminiscences to the New York Times. They had to go to some lengths to get the film out of China. Charlie Cole, who was there for Newsweek, writes:

After taking the picture of the showdown, I became concerned about the PSB's surveillance of our activities on the balcony. I was down to three rolls of film, with two cameras. One roll held the tank encounter, while the other had other good pictures of crowd and PLA confrontations and of wounded civilians at a hospital.

I replaced the final unexposed roll into the one of the cameras, replacing the tank roll, and reluctantly left the other roll of the wounded in the other camera. I felt that if the PSB searched the room or caught me, they would look even harder if there was no film in the cameras.

I then placed the tank roll in a plastic film can and wrapped it in a plastic bag and attached it to the flush chain in the tank of the toilet. I hid my cameras as best I could in the room. Within an hour, the PSB forced their way in and started searching the room. After about five minutes, they discovered the cameras and ripped the film out of each, seemingly satisfied that they had neutralized the coverage. They then forced me to sign a confession that I had been photographing during martial law and confiscated my passport.

Stuart Franklin of Magnum:

The film was smuggled out in a packet of tea by a French student and delivered to the Magnum office in Paris.

Jeff Widener of the AP:

I had earlier accomplished my mission of photographing the occupied Tiananmen Square so I gave all my rolls of film to Kurt/Kirk who smuggled it back to the A.P. office in his underwear. The long-haired college kid was wearing a dirty Rambo T-shirt, shorts and sandals. Security would never suspect him of being a journalist.

Another photo, never before published, taken at street level just before the standoff, has surfaced. You can see it here.

The Communists are still in charge, still repressing freedom. A Google.com search for images of Tiananmen Square will turn up several pictures of "Tank Man" and other photos from the massacre. The same search at google.cn turns up standard postcard-style shots -- no hint of what happened there 20 years ago.

China is blocking access to blog sites like blogspot.com and wordpress.com, certain search engines, Twitter and Flickr. Dissidents are disappearing. Participants in the protests 20 years ago still suffer economic deprivation:

In recent days, the government has detained a number of political dissidents seen as threats to public order during the anniversary period, including one who had released an open letter complaining about economic hardship visited on former Tiananmen demonstrators who were jailed after the crackdown.

The dissident, Wu Gaoxing, was seized Saturday at his home in Taizhou, a coastal city south of Shanghai, according to the New York advocacy group Human Rights in China. Mr. Wu was among five men, all once jailed for their roles in the Tiananmen movement, who released a letter last weekend charging that former prisoners have been singled out for economic hardship long after their prison terms ended.

Human Rights in China said Mr. Wu was taken away and his computer confiscated about an hour after the letter, addressed to President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, became public....

"In this society that claims to be harmonious, we have become 'citizens of the three have-nots waiting to die': we have no regular jobs, no pensions, and no health insurance; if we get sick, we can only wait to die, and all this just because 20 years ago we were sentenced for political reasons," the letter says.

The men, among them a former Communist Party member and a factory worker, said they had been denied pensions, health care and regular employment since taking part in local rallies that were inspired by the protests in Beijing.

When the government controls health care, banks, and industry, the government can punish dissidents by withholding access to jobs, medicine, and money -- something to keep in mind here at home. The Romans had a name for it: aquae et ignis interdictio -- deprived of fire and water.

Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese civil rights lawyer who won praise as an opponent of local government corruption but was persecuted for standing up for Falun Gong and other religions, is still missing after communist Chinese officials took him away from his home four months ago today. During previous detentions he was tortured with electric batons, starved, and beaten beyond recognition.

Pray for China. Pray for prisoners like Gao Zhisheng and Wu Gaoxing and their families. Pray for the persecuted church in China.

Some Americans complain about politics and partisanship and wish that dissidents and political opposition would shut up and go away so that our leaders can take care of the people's business. We need only look across the Pacific Ocean to see what that kind of society is like. I'll take liberty and democracy, thank you, bickering and all.

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Anonymous said:

Layoffs at FOX23, Newport Stations.

The owners of Tulsa's FOX23 Friday announced they will be laying off 33 of their workforce, and implementing mandatory two-week furloughs for all for Newport Television.

In Tulsa, FOX23 layoffs include reporters Kaci Christian and Marianly Mendez.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 4, 2009 6:50 PM.

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