Twenty-five years ago today, a great evil was done by those in power in China. They killed hundreds of their own people to silence them. They have tried to silence me. But I will not be silent. I want to speak to you today, in English, so no one will forget that terrible day.
Today is the first time I have spoken in public in English. I hope my thoughts and words are clear to you.
I was seventeen years old on June 4, 1989. Being blind, I could not attend school. If I had been a student, I too might have been at Tiananmen Square that day. But I was not there. I had only the radio and the TV. But here’s what I remember. I remember Li Peng. Li Peng came out to talk with the students. He avoided the important questions. I remember a student walked up to him as he was speaking and gave him a note. After Li Peng finished speaking, the same student said, “Sir, I just gave you a note to tell you that I will interrupt you if you don’t address our questions.” I’m not sure who that student was. From my memory of his voice, it was Wang Dan or Wuerkaixi, though I cannot be sure.
You remember 1978. Just before the new democracy in China. Deng Xiaoping proposed to “allow some people to get rich first.” Who got rich first? Party and government officials and their families, of course. What followed? Corruption and profiteering. But students and ordinary Chinese people wanted not just economic reform. They wanted political reform too. But officials in favor of reform were suppressed by officials with a vested interest in opposing it.
You remember Hu Yaobang? Reformist leader Hu Yaobang was forced to resign, and he suddenly died on April 15 that year. Students gathered all over China to express their reverence for him, to mourn his death, and to spread his views. They put up posters to express their deep concerns about media freedom and democracy and to protest corruption. People gathered at the Monument to People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu Yaobang. Students gave speeches in the square. What did they want? They wanted their human rights.
But Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng were afraid. Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng wanted to silence them. At the end of April, the People’s Daily condemned the students’ peaceful and lawful activities as a “riot.” This brought out more students to march and protest.
You remember Zhao Ziyang? Zhao Ziyang, in early May, said that the people’s demands were valid. He admitted this was a patriotic movement, and agreed to dialogue with students. But many did not trust him. And a hunger strike began on May 13, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was to visit China. Students from all over China went to Beijing to join the hunger strike. In more than 400 cities across China, people from all walks of life expressed their support of the students. Although Li Peng finally came out to dialogue with students, he showed no sincerity. Instead, he turned a deaf ear to their lawful demands.
On May 19, Zhao Ziyang called on students to stop their hunger strike, telling them to live healthy. Live healthy! But he had known for several days that Party hardliners planned a crackdown on students. This was the last time Zhao was seen in public. On May 20, the Communist Party declared martial law. Troops were sent to Beijing. But hundreds of people blocked them. On June 1, Li Peng called the movement a “riot” and said that Tiananmen Square must be cleared.
From the evening of June 3 to the dawn of June 4, the Communist government massacred its own people. Soldiers marched in. Tanks rolled in. Many students and city residents were killed, especially at Muxidi and in Tiananmen Square. Protests in other cities were also cruelly put down.
Twenty-Five Years Later
Twenty-five years have passed since the massacre at Tiananmen Square. The patriotic movement of 1989 was carried out by students and ordinary citizens. They wanted democracy and freedom. They opposed government corruption. The movement lasted just fifty days before it was suppressed by the Chinese communist government. Many young people died. Many fled the country.
Twenty-five years later, instead of admitting its evils and facing history, the Communist Party of China continues to cover it all up, and continues its one-party dictatorship. Calls for justice have still not been answered. The criminals who ordered the crackdown have still not been held accountable. This is a deep grief for the Chinese people. This is a grief for the whole world.
Today, we see great economic progress in China, but there has been very little political reform. The Communist Party of China (the CPC) continues to block media and filter so-called “sensitive words” on the Internet. In public, people are still afraid and silent about the June Fourth Incident. In the past twenty-five years, the Chinese people have fought like heroes against the tanks, machine guns, police batons and shields, handcuffs, foot shackles, and prison cells. They have had little success. Why? Because they fight against cold-blooded evil men who live outside the law. Outlaws.
But citizen activism has been growing. Who are those brave people? Heroes who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Heroes in the Democracy Party of China. Human rights lawyers. Heroes involved in more than 200,000 incidents each year. Opposing these acts of patriotism costs China about 70 billion Yuan each year, which is about $11.7 billion US dollars. China spends this huge sum, not on looking after her people, but in suppressing them.
For speaking out against these great crimes of the Communist Party, I spent years in prison. When my sentence was up, I was again detained. I was put under house arrest in Dongshigu Village, my hometown. All my visitors were beaten or driven away. There are many other examples of the government’s cruel opposition to freedom of thought or speech. Let’s talk about just one of many: the Jiansanjiang Incident.
Perhaps you thought that the “reeducation-through-forced-labor” system was abolished in mainland China. But did you know that “black jails” still exist throughout the country? These are where Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists, petitioners, and political dissidents are illegally detained. The Heilongjiang Nongken Bureau is just one such place.
On March 20 of this year, four human rights lawyers went there to help their illegally detained clients. These lawyers were: Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, Zhang Junjie, and Wang Cheng. National Security Protection agents and people from the 610 Office (a Communist party internal security apparatus) detained them and brutally tortured them. When they heard about this, many ordinary Chinese from all walks of life and from all over the country went to Jiansanjiang to support the four lawyers. They were also jailed, beaten, deported, or placed under house arrest. But their support worked. The government released the lawyers after fifteen days. The lawyers reported being hung in the air and tortured. They were threatened with organ harvesting and being buried alive. Among them, they suffered twenty-four broken ribs. When they were taken to the hospital, National Security Protection agents antagonized them and inhibited their medical care.
A government that cannot face its own history is a government without a future. Will a government that cannot treat its people with kindness treat other countries any better? I think not.
The Whole World Must Stand Firm
Hong Kong’s June Fourth Memorial Museum opened this year. It is the first museum in the world dedicated to June Fourth. It reveals the truth of what happened, truth that people in mainland China are not allowed to hear. And the Taiwan Association for Human Rights started an anti-CPC movement on the Internet.
The museum, the Internet movement, everything that makes us remember June Fourth, 1989 has its effect. Every speech, every story on the radio or TV, every candlelight vigil makes the perpetrators shudder in fear. It gives people courage to think and speak aloud again. Thank you to the people of Hong Kong. Thank you to everyone in the world who loves freedom and democracy and speaks out. For twenty-five years, you have refused to bury history. You continue to pursue the truth. You honor the martyrs who died June Fourth. Today, many Chinese people are beginning to awake. They are overcoming their fear and working for democracy. China will change. But we must stop the Communist Party from brutalizing and suppressing the Chinese people during this inevitable change.
Today, on this twenty-fifth anniversary of the June Fourth Incident, I speak to the people and government of the United States. I speak to all freedom-loving countries throughout the world. I hope you will look beyond China’s economic success. I urge you to support the ordinary Chinese. Help them end Internet censorship. Help them break down the Great Firewall of China. Stop receiving the June Fourth Incident criminals as your honored guests. Don’t let those who crush human rights enter your free, democratic countries. Deny them the warmth of your handshake, the warmth of your smile. Evildoers won’t stop until they are held responsible. Dishonoring evildoers is not dishonorable. But honoring them honors their crimes.
A corrupt regime is a threat to us all, and not just economically and militarily. It is a threat to our very human culture, our human civilization, and our universal human values.
To give future generations a free world, we must act now. Work with the human rights lawyers in China. Help the internet activists. Partner with all statesmen who support democracy and freedom. Let us join hands and fight together. Here. Now.
At the rebirth of democracy in China, the whole world must stand firm. If we speak loudly and clearly, a free China, a democratic China, a China with a constitutional government will come to pass. It must.
Chen Guangcheng is Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute, Distinguished Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Senior Distinguished Advisor at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.