WASHINGTON — Leaders of the Tiananmen Square protest movement 25 years ago told members of Congress today they were crushed that America didn’t step in to help back then, but they’re more troubled about what the U.S. government isn’t doing as human rights abuses in China increase to a rate not seen since that era.
No Democrats showed up on the dais for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hearing, at which Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) raised a range of concerns including persecution of anyone who tries to mark the massacre in China, the “mass extermination of girls” through the one-child policy, and unabated forced abortions.
Beijing, he noted, has gone to “astounding lengths to erase the memory of the Tiananmen demonstration.”
“We still have no account by the government of those who died, those who disappeared, those who were arrested, those who were executed,” Smith said. “China lost an idealistic generation of future leaders.”
The Tiananmen protest leaders, including the quintet sitting at the witness table, are among “the best and the greatest and the most courageous the world has ever seen.”
But China is in the midst of a “severe crackdown,” the congressman noted, with 2013 being the worst year since the 1990s in terms of the arrest of dissidents.
“It remains the torture capital of the world,” Smith said.
Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) declared that the communist regime “must not be allowed to last.”
“The spirit of courage and freedom will outlast steel tanks and cowardice,” he said in reference to the People’s Liberation Army tanks that mowed down student demonstrators in the square.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), once a speechwriter for President Reagan, maintained that “had he been president of the United States when this happened, this would be a different world and China would be a different place.”
Rohrabacher called it a “disgrace” that the administration of George H.W. Bush “did not make the leadership of the Communist Party pay.”
“Today there would not only be democracy in China but the world would be a safer, more peaceful place,” he said.
Major Yan Xiong was dubbed one of the “most wanted” student leaders after the Tiananmen protests. He recalled rushing toward the square after hearing that troops had marched into the Forbidden City; he ran into walls of people forming human chains, trying to keep their countrymen away from the slaughter. Xiong got through and witnessed “horrific” scenes.
“Soldiers with helmets and AK-47s were randomly shooting at protesters as they chanted slogans and tried to hold their ground. My friend and I crept forward, the sound of bullets, shooting, crying, and tanks blended together,” he told the committee.
Xiong found a phone booth, called his wife and asked her to go to the Beijing University radio station to “tell the truth” about the massacre unfolding. “I continued to relay new information to the radio station until the early hours of morning.”
He was captured after ending up on the most-wanted list and spent nearly two years in prison before coming to the U.S. in 1992 — just in time for his first Fourth of July.
“I saw then the meaning of freedom – the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from fear that all Americans enjoy. Since the time of my baptism as a Christian, I also found the freedom that knowing God provides,” Xiong said. “As a commissioned officer in the United States Army I serve to protect these freedoms. As an Army Chaplain my job is to assist my commander to ensure that all members of the Army family receive the religious support they need to freely exercise their faith, according to the Constitution.”
Xiong beamed when he spoke about his love for his adopted country and for the Army. “I’m so proud to be a U.S. citizen, to serve my country 20 years now,” he said, adding that “the real Creator is not the Communist Party; it is the Creator of the people.”
Zhou Fengsuo, co-founder of the rights group Humanitarian China, called it “the greatest honor of my life that Chinese government … designated me as No. 5 on the list.”
“I did not deserve that honor, for there are many others that worked harder and fought more bravely,” he added. Zhou was responsible for building networks that provided medical support to the protesters in the square, and was among the last students to leave.