Remembering Tiananmen

June 4th, 2009 | 0 comments | Posted by Jen

It’s been 20 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing.

There were 7 weeks of nonviolent student protest leading up to it.

The exact number of people killed in Tiananmen Square on and around June 4, 1989 is unknown. The Chinese Red Cross initially gave an estimate of 2,600 dead that they later denied.

20 years ago, I sat in my friend Patti’s kitchen, looking at this Time magazine cover:


We had been cooing over Patti’s new baby sister, who was the 9th child in her family.

10 years before Tiananmen, in 1979, China instituted its one-child policy.

In my one year of living in China, exactly one person spoke to me about what happened in Tiananmen. The story he told me was a secondhand account.


There was only one “Tank Man.” But there were 4 photographers who captured him stepping in front of those armored combat vehicles.

A recent NY Times story maintains that the Tiananmen Square protests are regarded by Chinese students today as “almost a historical blip,” although it is not as hard to get information about them as it used to be. 7 out of the 8 Peking University students interviewed for the article were able to download a banned documentary on the protests and watch it in their dorm rooms, for example.

5 years after I sat in Patti’s kitchen looking at pictures of the massacre, I played frisbee in Tiananmen Square.

The Chinese government estimated in 2000 that its one-child policy had prevented 250 million births, which was the population of the United States in 1989.

The Chinese government’s official death figure from Tiananmen was 241 dead (including soldiers), 7,000 wounded.

The one detail I remember vividly from the secondhand account of Tiananmen I heard was that the person whose story it was survived by hiding in a tree from the Chinese military for days. How many days, I don’t know for sure.

20 years later, the fate of Tank Man still remains unknown.

[Frontline: Tiananmen timeline]
[NY Times: Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen]

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