What does a memory become when it’s coercively buried beneath folds of government threat? What does a death become when mourners are threatened against mourning?
What does an atrocity become when people become complacent in compulsory amnesia?
Today is June 4th, and state-run China Central Television monotonously drones on and on about recent developments in Chinese milk companies. Today is June 4th and Xinhua news gushes about Angelina Jolie’s visit to China as a form of movie promotion. Today is June 4th, a day people are told to remember like any other day, a day that should be treated with as much significance as any other day buried in sweltering Chinese summers.
Today is June 4th, a day that should always be remembered.
It is 25 years ago, the spring of 1989. Nearly a million people assemble in Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang. Thousands of students add their voices to the increasingly loud choruses of protest against government corruption, violent censorship, and the theft of their right to criticize. As the world holds its breath in anticipation of the government response, screams begin to echo throughout the square.
Today is June 4th, a day of violent, heavy silence. A day of blood.
A day of death.
Upon visiting Tiananmen Square today, visitors will spot displays of party slogans that commemorate the rise of modern day China, wreathed in golden glorification and silver successes. It’s been an awe-inducing era of prosperity and advancement rushing along at break-neck speeds.
Dare to disagree?
“The less trouble, the better. How could it help him to know about it?”
“The government forbids discussion of it, so I never discuss it.”
The China of the modern age is a land of verbal minefields. Exploring and expressing sentiments about its dark history is analogous to attempting to tread through a forest of eggshells on a pair of stilts.
Today is June 4th. Abnormally extravagant numbers of armed personnel, SWAT teams, and plain-clothed officers silently warn and monitor visitors of Tiananmen Square. No public protests have occurred. Civil activists are put under house arrest.
Even those attempting to pry up old historical floorboards to investigate the event find strange obstacles blocking their electronic searches. 25 years? Nope. June 4th? Nope. May 35th? Tiananmen? Square? Mourn? Student movement? The candle emoticon?
In modern day China, where forgetting is made all too easy, silence is what thousands will embrace. Memories of the blood blossoming across the chests of student activists and the thunder of tanks will be boxed up and sealed away in the decrepit attics of the human mind. Why remember the China of the past when the future shines so brightly with prospects of capitalism that prosperity seems accessible to all?
But forgetting, my friends, is deadly.
When a memory is forcibly buried, it transitions into a state of non-existence. When mourners are told not to mourn a death, the reasons for loss are never fully accounted for. When the people of a nation become complacent in compulsory amnesia, they forget the pain of loss and the complexity of how they arrived at that state of loss and pain and regret to begin with.
There are thousands who have already chosen to forget.
But choosing to forget affects nothing. Those who have died, those who have suffered. How can a nation choose to look them straight in the face and smile away the atrocities?
Today is June 4th. May 35th. A day of student protests, a day of student deaths. 25 years of stringent silence. 25 years of a slowly disappearing memory.
May we always remember.
Chappell, Bill. “25 Years After Tiananmen Protests, Chinese Media Keep It Quiet.” NPR.
NPR, 4 June 2014. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/06/04/318756603/25-years-after-tiananmen-protests-chinese-media-keep-it-quiet>.
MacLeod, Calum. “Tiananmen? What Tiananmen? Beijing Keeps Lid on Protests.” USA
Today. Gannett, 04 June 2014. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/04/tiananmen-anniversary/9946783/>.
Mohamed, Farah. “China Intensifies Online Censorship Ahead Of Tiananmen
Anniversary.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 June 2014. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/03/china-tiananmen-anniversary-censorship_n_5439651.html>.