Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Remembering Tiananmen

Twenty years after the Tiananmen Square massacre (4 June 1989) there seems to be some amnesia about what actually happened in China at that time. Obviously the Chinese State continues to downplay the extent of the repression and how many people it killed that day and in the subsequent crackdown. But even amongst those who want to remember the victims, the nature of the movement they were part of is sometimes neglected when it is presented as simply a student protest in central Beijing. The movement was wider than that, involving workers as well as students (cf. the role of the Autonomous Workers Federation), and spreading to Shanghai and other parts of the country. There was also a fair amount of international solidarity - I remember going on a huge demonstration in London just after the massacre, with a high proportion of Chinese people taking part. We all sat down for a while as it passed by China town in Soho.

The repression of that time is not past history either, witness the case of Li Wangyang still in prison today. According to Chinese Labour Bulletin: 'Li was first arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment the following year on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement" for founding the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation and leading workers' strikes during the May 1989 pro-democracy movement. He was released in June 2000, but in February 2001, he staged a 22-day hunger strike in an attempt to obtain medical compensation for injuries to his back, heart and lungs that he had sustained while in prison, and which reportedly left him unable to walk unaided. His eyesight is also seriously impaired. For staging the hunger-strike protest, Li was again arrested by the police. On 5 September 2001, he was tried in secret by the People's Intermediate Court of Shaoyang on the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a further 10 years' imprisonment'.

By way of remembrance here's a song that was something of an anthem to the protestors - Nothing to my Name. The singer. Cui Jan, is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Bruce Springsteen, and not without reason. On the evidence of this song, not only does his voice sound a bit like the New Jersery balladeer but the wrong side of the tracks sentiments (poor boy scorned by better off girl) are pure Bruce. Cui Jan joined the protestors and sang in Tiananmen Square. As a result he was effectively blacklisted for some years in China, though he now seems to have been rehabilitated.

More: Burt Green - The Meaning of Tiananmen: 'the material existence of Autonomous Beijing as both a real occupation of physical and social space and the assertion of a living alternative to the dominant organization of society overseen by the Communist Party, was already the repudiation of the Party's thirty years of rule. Shiraz Socialist 'We must not, ever, forget' .

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