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One of the most enduring images of the 20th century is that of a young man in a white shirt, facing down a column of tanks rolling down a broad city boulevard. The date was June 5th, 1989, and the incident took place in the aftermath of what is known in China as the June 4th Incident, but will be remembered by the rest of the world as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This week we mark its 20th anniversary.
The demonstrations began gradually, sparked by the death of pro-market, pro-democracy and anti-corruption official, Hu Yaobang. Beginning on April 16th, 1989, workers, students, intellectuals and activists began to gather in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in other cities. Most were demonstrating peacefully for a pluralistic political system, economic reforms and an end to corruption. Within 6 weeks, some 100,000 demonstrators were encamped in Tiananmen Square.
Seeing no end to the protests, the government declared martial law by the end of May. Then, late on the night of June 3rd, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Beijing and tanks and armed soldiers crushed the barricades erected around the square by the protesters and, using lethal force, began to clear the streets of civilians.
The international community and ordinary Chinese citizens still do not know how many people were killed or injured when Chinese troops and tanks entered Beijing. The Government of China continues to suppress basic facts and all public discussion about the Tiananmen protests and the subsequent massacre.
The United States continues to call on the Chinese Government to move forward with a reexamination of Tiananmen, to release all remaining Tiananmen era prisoners, and to cease harassment of the families of victims of Tiananmen. These actions, together with steps to protect Chinese citizens’ internationally-recognized fundamental freedoms, will help China achieve its goal of projecting a positive image to the world.