It has been 16 years since the June Fourth Movement of 1989 took place. According to reports, this event that shook the whole world is little known among students in China, who seem indifferent to what happened and do not even want to ask about it.
That once-dynamic movement has seemingly faded into obscurity. Many formerly active students, who now felt "more mature" after years of reflection, were beset with remorse and their faces would redden at the mention of what they had done in their younger days. They have busied themselves with earning money and making a living. "To heck with state affairs!" they would say.
This is eerily similar to what happened after the May Fourth Movement of 1919. In fact, the June Fourth Movement has received even more of the cold shoulder than the May Fourth Movement of 1919. The central government over 80 years ago did not deprive the people of their right of free speech, and did not forbid the expression of public opinion regarding the May Fourth Movement. But today, the central government treats June Fourth as a scourge and takes every possible measure to remove it from public discourse. It plots a systematic policy of brainwashing for the younger generation and tightens its grip on all channels of information, all in a desperate attempt to wipe out all traces of that chapter in history. When its attempts fail in some cases, it resorts to the concealment of facts with lies. Its only intention is to brainwash the "New Generation," thus creating a buffer against the June Fourth Movement for the purpose of removing the event from history.
Without a doubt, Beijing’s policies have been partially successful.
Therefore, a question is brought before us—one that is chilling to contemplate:Has the torch of June Fourth been extinguished? Have we lost any hope of handing the torch of June Fourth down to a new generation?
The answer is a resounding "No!" Voices have recently reverberated across the landscape: "In our hearts the Tiananmen Mothers are not only mothers of the June Fourth martyrs, but also mothers of the generations before and after the June Fourth Movement, mothers of this nation that is tortured by political abuse. We therefore declare upon solemn oath that we are the sons of the Tiananmen Mothers. We feel guilty for our silence and indifference when they suffered, and we are willing to protest against the government persistently for its persecution of these mothers, with our tears, pens, human conscience and even our lives."—This was a public declaration by Yu Jie and Wang Yi last year, champions of the young scholars of the post-1989 generation.
"Whether it is for liberation or self-salvation, we appeal for starting again from that early morning. ‘Returning to June Fourth’ shall be the real starting point for China’s public politics… we, the generation who witnessed death or even chose death in 1989, still feel the warm blood as if it was shed just this morning. We make this joint declaration for liberation and self-salvation." —This was the declaration issued last year by Ren Bumei, Yu Shicun, and Pu Zhiqiang, and others, representatives of the "1989 Generation."
In fact, the voice of righteousness has not been silenced in the past 16 years. Documents and files related to June Fourth have been smuggled out of China and put into publications. Oral and written condemnations of the bloody massacre have been heard or seen without end and have brought tears to many audiences. The Tiananmen Mothers, braving threats and going up against great pressure, rose up from the earth that is soaked with the blood of their children to investigate the truth, to charge those who had committed wrongdoings and to seek justice. Dr. Jiang Yanyong, who saved untold number of lives by exposing the truth when SARS raged through China two years ago, stood up again at risk to his life to appeal for the rectification of the government’s handling of the June Fourth Movement, to expose the crimes that took place there and demand the innocent dead be given their due. To our great comfort, quite a few young scholars of the 1989 generation or later generations have stood up with courage. They proudly call themselves the "Sons of June Fourth" and the "Sons of the Tiananmen Mothers," and assert that June Fourth had a great influence on their entire lives.
Perhaps the sons of June Fourth are not great in terms of sheer numbers. But history has proven that it does not matter if only a small number of intellectual successors exist. The difference between 1:0 and 1,000,000,000:0 is essentially the same when measured by the significance of intellectual succession. Once the spiritual value is passed on, it will cast its light upon every inch of the land, drawing multitudes from all corners of the earth.
As stated above, in the years after the May Fourth Movement, China was paralyzed because of the desperation and dejection of the intellectual world. There remained only a very few people who still considered themselves successors of the movement. However, with the passage of time, the May Fourth Movement has played an increasingly important role in the Chinese history of the 20th century. From a long-term, historical perspective, three types of ideology that are closely connected to China’s fate, whether in a positive or negative way, originated from the May Fourth Movement, namely nationalism, liberalism and Marxism. And as if handled by a magical hand, all of the significant events in the 20th century can be traced back to this movement. Most parties and intellectual schools in today’s China claim to be its successors, as if in fear of the denial of their identities if they did not make that claim. However, the historical account of this movement is not clear-cut, as it varies in different periods of time and is evaluated with different measures by different people. This is probably the only reason why the May Fourth Movement has been entered into the annals of history.
Without a doubt, unlike the May Fourth Movement, the June Fourth Movement has not yet been authorized to be part of China’s history. To make things worse, many people are in constant fear of being connected to it. However, as mentioned above, there have been both young and old people who have asserted themselves as the successors to and guardians of June Fourth. Meanwhile, I have noticed that not all who take an interest in this movement are liberalists. Quite a few are from other intellectual schools, such as Wang Hui, who is of the New Left Wing (or Liberal Left Wing, as it labels itself). In an essay of a considerable length, Wang calls the 1989 movement a leftist movement, and he places it in the leftist system of discourse. This is a phenomenon of remarkable significance, which implies, no matter what the will of the present authorities is and no matter how hard they try to quarantine the event, that the June Fourth Movement will inevitably become a public spiritual legacy of modern China, and will thereby merge into the long river of Chinese history.
Therefore, I venture to foretell the fate of the June Fourth Movement.
I once gave my basic evaluation of June Fourth, which remains unchanged, and which I wish to hereby use to commemorate the 16th anniversary of June Fourth.
History is not a calendar. In a calendar, all the dates are treated without discrimination. But history has its partiality, usually for certain specific dates. Leafing through history, we see dates in capital letters-in which undulating human destinies, hymns for life and requiems for death, are focused and thus acquire their weight. How dull and pale history would be without Confucius’ birth in 551 B.C.; without Jesus Christ’s birth on December 25, 0 A.D.; without June 15, 1215, the day the English king was forced to affix his royal seal to the Magna Carta; without October 12, 1492, when Columbus found the New Continent; without July 4, 1776, when American Independence was declared; without July 14, 1789, when the Bastille was captured by French revolutionaries; without October 10, 1911, when the Wuchang Uprising broke out in China; without May 4, 1919, when the May 4th Movement started in China! It is because of those dates that the human race illuminates, that history and civilization are worthy of themselves!
June 4, 1989 is a date in capital letters, immortal in history – for China, and for the whole world.
Theatrically condensed within the temporal space of those dozens of days were the hundred years of our nation’s simple appeals and destiny. That was a tragic stage of history. Within seconds, a hundred years of joy and sorrow, glory and dreams of our nation exploded from the shouts at Tiananmen Square and the gun bursts of June 4th. In the wake of the Tiananmen Square events of June 4, 1989, a succession of the most monumental changes in the twentieth century took place: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet and Eastern European Camp, the downfall of communism, the end of the East-West Cold War at the main frontlines. Judged from this broader historical view, June 4, 1989 has become a detour sign for world history.
After June 4, 1989, as far as the market orientation of the Chinese economy is concerned, the butchers of June 4, 1989 were forced to carry out the will of Tiananmen Square martyrs.
There is no need to ‘search the heavens above and Hell below’ for the purpose of rescuing the spirit of Chinese civilization. What we need to do is to take action right now to restore the memory of the June Fourth Movement, to mourn those who died in the massacre and to redress the injustice inflicted upon the innocent. June Fourth is a Crucifix borne by China, a Crucifix that Chinese people must carry. Only when this Crucifix, which is stained with the blood of the June Fourth martyrs, towers above us in the spiritual heaven of the Chinese people, will there come the chance for China to escape from disaster and win its final salvation.
. . .
Justice knows no substitute. China’s trouble will not end as long as injustices remain uncorrected. Sooner or later, the fiery lava within the earth will spew out of the crater, billowing like the wild sea and bringing new features to the landscape. First, there will be the judgment as justice descends, and then the bounty of peace for the Chinese people.
The Sixteenth Anniversary has arrived. The bell has begun to toll. The last judgment is right around the corner.
Kuide Chen, Ph.D., is Editor-in-Chief of GUANCHA Magazine (www.observechina.net) and Executive Director of the Princeton China Initiative.