Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Although I wasn’t there (I first saw Tiananmen 11 months earlier), the events from June 4, 1989 influenced me more than I could have imagined when I watched the CNN footage from my college dorm in Baltimore that spring.
I was 18 when Tiananmen happened, and had big dreams. I had already decided to study in Hong Kong the following year and was even more determined to go there after Tiananmen. I wanted to be closer to the action and thought I could learn more about the changes (or lack of) in China by being in Hong Kong.
So it all worked out well and I loved Hong Kong so much I returned several years later, almost five years to the day after Tiananmen.
Back at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I fell in with a group of mainland students who had experienced Tiananmen firsthand. None was in the league of Wang Dan or Chai Ling, the lanky student leaders seen on international broadcasts. But sitting around outdoor tables in peaceful Hong Kong five years after Tiananmen, my new friends recounted with clarity the events of June 4th (which in Chinese always refers to June 4, 1989) as if they had just happened yesterday.
Naively, I assumed all the mainland students I knew in Hong Kong were pro-democracy. I figured they all supported the students in 1989. Okay, so I was wrong. (I later learned that Chinese nationalism is quite different from the nationalism that Americans experienced after 9/11, but that’s another posting for another day).
Having had 21 years to reflect on Tiananmen, the Chinese government hasn’t apologized for using force against the protesters. In fact, according to an article on Voice of America News.com, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry recently stated that the Chinese government’s actions were: “suitable for China’s national conditions and in the fundamental interest of the Chinese people.”