Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. That peaceful student pro-democracy protest is mostly remembered now for the indelible image of one brave, unarmed protester standing defiantly in front of a Chinese Army tank, as if daring it to roll over him.
But while we all honor the incredible courage of that protester who came to be known as “Tank Man,” the full story of Tiananmen Square is a horror story. It was one of the bloodiest government crackdowns in modern history. Snipers mowed down unarmed protesters, soldiers bayoneted the wounded, and armored vehicles crushed students who tried to block their paths with their bodies. China claims fewer than 300 people were killed, but the Chinese Red Cross estimates it was close to 2,700, while a recently declassified memo by Britain’s ambassador to China put the number of fatalities at 10,454. You can read more details at the link, but I warn you, you’d better steel yourself.
Since that time, China has considered the slaughter to be an embarrassment and done everything in its power to suppress any mention of it. “Tank Man” was later reported to be 19-year-old archaeology student Wang Weilin, but to this day, we don’t know what became of him. The Tiananmen Square uprising is never mentioned in the media nor taught in schools, any mention of it is censored and those who dare to discuss it are punished. China would like nothing more than to erase it from the collective memory.
Thankfully, with the rise of the Internet, that kind of totalitarian control of information is becoming much harder. And with the election of Donald Trump, America’s leadership is no longer willing to go along with other nations’ unconscionable lies just to keep from making waves. Even as Trump is negotiating on trade and North Korea with China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the occasion of the anniversary to publicly demand that China “make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; to release those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”
Amen to that. China’s leaders need to learn that a tank may be able to crush a human body, but it can’t crush the human spirit -- or the truth.