The Long Wait for China to Honor the Heroes of Tiananmen, 1989
Someday, China will build a monument in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to honor its citizens who took part in the 1989 uprising we remember under the name of Tiananmen. Perhaps that monument will look like the statue of the Goddess of Democracy, built by demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to hold high in both hands a torch of liberty -- facing off against the huge portrait of Mao. Perhaps it will look very different. Whatever the monument might look like, and whenever that day comes, we will at long last be able to read in the free press of a free country the thoughts of a free people on what happened in China during that sleepless spring in Beijing, and why it matters.
But that day remains far off. It is 29 years since the Tiananmen uprising. The Goddess of Democracy has been reduced to souvenir desktop replicas, still sold with admirable daring in Hong Kong. The lone Chinese man facing down a column of tanks in Beijing has become an iconic figure around much of the globe, but in China the man himself has disappeared. China has no free speech; no free and open political process with which to chart a worthy course into the 21st century as a truly great world power. Instead, it now has a president for life, a communist party that continues to maintain its monopoly grip on power, and -- along with its economic rise -- a strategic and despotic blueprint for growing dominance abroad that could lead to war.
Inside China, the Communist Party has labored for more than a generation to erase the memory of Tiananmen. Officially, the anniversary of June 4, 1989, when the Chinese army shot its way into the square, is marked chiefly by even tighter security measures than usual. It's been decades since China's regime paved over the ruts left by tank treads in the streets of Beijing, and repaired the stone steps of Tiananmen's Monument to the People's Heroes, which were cracked and crushed by armored personnel carriers when the army evicted the demonstrators who during the pre-dawn hours of June 4 chose that monument as the place to make their last stand.
Outside China, in places where people are free to speak about Tiananmen, we must remember and honor that 1989 uprising. Among the reporters who were there -- and I was, working at the time for the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal -- I think there is a compelling urge every year, on this June 4 anniversary, to say something. The instinct is to find something new, something as yet unreported after all these years. And, in dredging through old notebooks, poring over stories that have stacked up over almost three decades, and surveying the current rise of China as an increasingly militarized and predatory state, there is plenty to say -- especially regarding Beijing's growing threat to the genuine democracy of the Republic of China, on Taiwan.