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Remembering Tianamen Square

This week marks the nineteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China.

In April 1989, Chinese students conducted a massive and peaceful pro-democracy demonstration. They were quickly joined by workers, intellectuals and civil servants, until more than a hundred thousand people filled Tiananmen Square. Up to a million marched in Beijing’s streets and the demonstrations soon spread to more than three hundred Chinese cities.

On the night of June 3rd and the morning of June 4th, 1989, Chinese authorities sent in troops and tanks to end the demonstrations. Hundreds, perhaps thousands were killed. Thousands of others were arrested. According to the U.S. State Department, some non-governmental organizations believe as many as two hundred people remain in prison for political activities connected to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

The world doesn’t know the exact numbers of killed, wounded or arrested in connection with the Tiananmen events because the Chinese government still hasn’t provided an accounting. Instead, it has imposed a near complete blackout of information about the event.

Since 1989, China has pursued a policy of broad economic liberalization with impressive annual growth, but this hasn’t been matched by political reform or increased respect for the internationally recognized fundamental freedoms of Chinese citizens. In its 2007 Human Rights Report on China, the State Department found that controls were tightened in some areas, such as religious freedom in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region; freedom of speech and the media, including the Internet; and the treatment of petitioners in Beijing. Even though many Chinese people in post-Tiananmen China now enjoy personal freedoms previously denied them, such internationally recognized fundamental liberties as freedom of speech, belief, and association remain restricted.

On the issue of human rights in China, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the U.S. position is clear: "We believe the expansion of individual freedoms and greater political liberalization is not only the right and just path, it is also the best way for China to achieve long-term stability."