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View Towards Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square Looking Towards The Forbidden City

View Towards Mao's Tomb

Tiananmen Square Looking Towards Mao's Tomb

Square Guard

Tiananmen Square Guard

Chairman Mao

The Chairman Sees All, at the Entrance to the Forbidden City

Well, here it is June 4th and as expected, it's just like any other day. Nothing much happened in Beijing 20 years ago, right? Nothing that matters today, anyway. China is a different place. Economic growth and a new sense of openness ensure that people only care about one thing. The one thing that Mao Zedong railed so desperately against: getting ahead. Money! Possessions! Success! Wealth! I can't really blame people here for not worrying about a bunch of pro-democracy activists when their own lives are so noticeably better than they were just 10 years ago.

Still, as a student of history I am sad that the government has covered it all up. As mentioned in the comments of my last post, most countries and governments are guilty of a little "airbrushing" of history. That doesn't make it any easier to understand, however.

My own experience with Tiananmen Square is much more benign. I've visited it a few times. The first time was in 2006 when I traveled around China with my mother, sister and sister-in-law. In the bus outside of the square, our tour guide told us, "We all know something happened in the square, but please don't ask me any questions about it while we are there. Someone is always listening." I think this spiel is given to most tourists. And yes, someone is listening. There are more plain-clothed policeman in the square than there are tourists, or so I've heard. Since my first visit security has beefed up, especially for the Olympics. I don't know the current situation but last year tourists were required to pass through metal detectors before entering the space and a military presence was felt. I'll be visiting Beijing soon to get my passport renewed and I plan on stopping by the square to see what is (or is not) going on.

In any article you read about the square today you will hear about the "military or police presence." It sounds so ominous, but I assure you, most soldiers and police that I have seen in various places around China seem bored out of their minds. They're not intimidating at all, at least not to me.

Reading recommendations: Two accounts that I have found interesting, from the perspective of Western journalists living in Beijing can be found in John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons and in the Pulitzer-prize winning reports from Nicholas D. Kristof (see China Wakes). I really enjoyed Pomfret's book. He was one of the very first foreign students in a Chinese university after the Cultural Revolution and his book follows the lives of five of his classmates and Pomfret's own experiences in China.

Despite the fact that June 4th is being largely ignored, there is dissent and protest in China. The New York Times has an interesting article today on China's current rebels.

Also fascinating reading is a Foreign Policy magazine article, The Virus Hunters March/April 2006, about the SARS coverup in Beijing. This relates to Tiananmen because the doctor who blew the whistle to reporters did so because he never spoke up after the Tiananmen killings, and he always regretted not doing so. He was working in the emergency room of a Beijing hospital that night and saw first hand the wounded and dead.

Let us remember for those who cannot or will not.