Thursday, June 04, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today I was sitting glued to my television in Hong Kong, watching with disbelief at the news coming from Beijing. I had been in Beijing until a few days before the troops descended on the square, and knew people who were on the square from my university in Nanjing. None of us could have anticipated that this would have happened, and yet it did.

In the aftermath of Tiananmen, my company closed its offices in Beijing and I found myself being moved, first to London and then to Moscow. It would be 1991 before I got back to Beijing, on a quick visit, and I already found a changed city. No one would talk about what happened on that day, and people talked in the same hushed tones that were common in the USSR.

By 2002 I found that young people already had never heard of what happened in Beijing (and elsewhere in the country) on June 4, 1989), and those who had heard that something had happened only knew the government's version of the story.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the events of Tiananmen Square, and in preparation for the occasion the Chinese government has blocked many of the internet portals that might be able to inform their people about what happened: MSN, Blogger, YouTube, Twitter, Hotmail are all blocked (there are ways around these blocks, which is how I'm posting this). Almost surely the blocks will fall in a few days' time, only to return the next time the anniversary of one of the Chinese government's less admirable moments approaches.

It's a shame that the government is so afraid of the people knowing the truth about what it did. But the sad thing is that most Chinese nowadays seem to feel that the growing economy makes up for their lack of freedom to know the truth and to be able to affect change in how the country is run.