Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the most important political event in China’s post-Mao era. But you’d hardly know it from watching or reading the state-run media, walking around my university’s campus or talking to the man in the street.
That’s because the ruling Communist Party has banned any discussion of the 1989 government crackdown that resulted in soldiers killing hundreds (some say thousands) of pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Beijing’s largest public square.
Every year at this time, Chinese authorities tighten security, using house arrest and intimidation to prevent any public commemoration of the killings. This year they went one step further, detaining five activists for talking about the massacre in private at someone’s home.
It’s yet another reminder that China, despite its amazing economic progress, is still an authoritarian state that doesn’t tolerate political dissent. Chinese people will complain loudly about almost anything except the Communist Party. When they criticize the government, they usually do it in private and only among people they trust.
Most Chinese people I’ve met are apathetic about their government. While some express enthusiastic support and others are sharply critical, the majority are more concerned about education, jobs and family. Even if they don’t like the political system, they say Tiananmen Square proved that attempts to change it are futile.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The difference is, Americans actually do have the power to change their leaders, even though most of us don’t even bother to vote. Protesters died in Tiananmen Square fighting for rights we take for granted.