On The 31st Anniversary, Remembering The Tiananmen Square Massacre

Date: June 4, 2020
By: Emily Feng
Host: Steve Inskeep

Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. And as Hong Kong fights now to keep its limited autonomy, police ban the city's annual Tiananmen vigil.


Today is June 4, the day in 1989 when China sent its military against protesters. Chinese troops massacred many people as they cleared Tiananmen Square. Commemorating this massacre is forbidden in mainland China, but Hong Kong has held huge rallies every year to remember the victims until this year, when police banned that activity, although organizers say they're going ahead. NPR's Emily Feng is covering this story from Beijing. Hi there, Emily.


INSKEEP: Why is this anniversary so important in Hong Kong?

FENG: Well, that year 31 years ago, 1989, Hong Kong was still a British colony, and they saw these protests in Beijing as a parallel of their own struggle. At that point, the U.K. and China had already agreed that in the future, 1997, Hong Kong would be returned to Chinese rule. So the idea was if protesters in Beijing could create a democratic China, then democracy might finally arrive in Hong Kong as well, which we know didn't happen. But after the military crackdown on June 4, Hong Kong served another purpose. It became this important counterfactual of what China could've been with some limited civil rights.

Here's Zhou Fengsuo, an activist who now lives in New Jersey. But in 1989, he was one of the student leaders in Tiananmen.

ZHOU FENGSUO: I think Hong Kong showed the other aspect of China, the spirit of the people. And through this candlelight vigil, it represented love of freedom. It reminded people that China could be different.

F6ENG: But in some ways, 1989 also sealed Hong Kong's fate. That year, Beijing and Hong Kong were drafting the conditions under which China would govern Hong Kong. And Beijing, after they saw these Tiananmen protests, effectively took control of writing those conditions, and they included more stringent language on national security and subversion that you see them citing today. The lack of that candlelight vigil that Zhou Fengsuo was just talking about in Hong Kong feels particularly existential this year because Hong Kong's now coming under threat from Beijing's control.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And, of course, the very fact that they were able to hold this vigil at all, this memorial for Tiananmen Square, over the years suggests that there has been greater freedom in Hong Kong. What's happening now that the government, the central government, is cracking down?    [FULL  DISCUSSION]