Tiananmen 20 Years Later: Has China Changed?

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BEIJING -- June 4 marks the 20th anniversary of a deadly Chinese government crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese people camped out on Beijing's Tiananmen Square demanding freedom and change. The Chinese  government eventually crushed the uprising.

Twenty years on, the events on Tiananmen Square continue to haunt the nation. 

A few blocks from Tiananmen Square on one of the most expensive shopping streets in Beijing, CBN News met with a group of college students who were born in 1989.

Thomas: When I say the date June 4, 1989, do you know what this means? 

Student: I have no idea. 

Thomas: What about you, do you know what happened? 

Student: No, sorry I don't know.

But a few minutes later, the students reluctantly opened up.

Thomas: Is it easy to talk about what happened back in 1989 amongst friends, is it easy or is it difficult?

Student: No, it's difficult. We know very little about what happened that day, I only know that there were students gathering on Tiananmen Square calling for change.

The protests began in April of 1989.  Hundreds of thousands of young students began gathering on Tiananmen Square demanding political reform and an end to communist authoritarian rule. 

Weeks later, more than a million people had filled the square. Demonstrations had spread to more than 300 other cities across the country.

But the government declared the student movement a counter-revolutionary rebellion. 

And on the morning of June 4, Chinese authorities moved in with troops and tanks.     

No one knows for sure, but hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were killed.  Thousands of others were arrested. 

Today, on Tiananmen Square, there's not a hint of what happened here 20 years ago.  Along with the thousands of visitors who fill the Square each day, hundreds of soldiers and undercover police officers are deployed to make sure the Square remains peaceful.

Several key dissidents and their relatives were reportedly detained or harassed ahead of the anniversary.

Even after all these years, the government has yet to give a full accounting of what took place here on Tiananmen square and so any public or official discussion of the matter is forbidden.

While some have called for an independent investigation into the government's actions, many like these young students focus on the present.

"China has changed so much since then. People's standard of living is developing very fast. Twenty years ago, not everyone was able to go to college, people's quality of life has improved, all aspects of the society have improved," one female student said.

For fear of losing control, China's leaders unleashed a wave of economic reforms. The party began to ease its control over people's daily lives. The result has been China's unprecedented economic rise.

"Just look at all these stores around here," a male student said, noting the economic development. "Who could have ever imagined the China of today?"

Some of those who witnessed the uprising say, that while repression and human rights violations still exist today, China has come a long way since the Tiananmen Square uprising.

"We used to be such a closed nation, we knew little about the outside world. But things are different now, we are opening up and the world can see this," an older man said.

These young students say talking politics and the legacy of June 4 are unnecessary distractions to ensuring that China continues to succeed on the global stage.

"We want to focus on the future, on being a prosperous and more modern nation."

*Originally Published June 2, 2009

Related Link:

China Aid Association

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CBN News
George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

CBN News is a national/international, nonprofit news organization that provides programming 24 hours a day by cable, satellite and the Internet.