Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, referred to as the "June 4 Incident" by their government. I was saddened that this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle only ran one small paragraph on page two, under News of the World. So I decided to read more about what happened that day.
The Chinese pro-democracy movement began on April 15, 1989, largely led by students. (I’m always moved when I reflect on the part idealistic students have played as catalysts of major world events, with the music from Les Miserables swelling to a crescendo in my head.) When their demands were denied, the students began a hunger strike on May 13. About a million people had gathered in the square on June 3, 1989 when the army opened fire. One unidentified person, later called the Tank Man or the Unknown Rebel, stood in the path of the tanks and climbed onto one of the turrets – to no avail.
Only God knows the number of people killed that day. It ranges from the official count of 241 up to 5,000 killed and 30,000 wounded. The protest was not successful for China, but those brave souls imparted their courage to the people of Eastern Europe and Russia, whose regimes toppled like dominoes beginning in September, 1989. The very day after Tiananmen Square, Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Union won a resounding victory, setting the stage for what would follow shortly in Poland.
The newspapers may be silent today, but we will not forget the astounding courage and self-less sacrifice of the martyrs.