[Guest Blog] Centre College professor visits China for 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre
Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies Dina Badie recently traveled to Beijing, China, for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Badie addresses the issue of civil liberties in China in courses such as East Asian Politics, Comparative Politics and Intro to International Relations. She received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Connecticut, and her work has been published in Foreign Policy Analysis, International Studies Perspective and The Routledge Handbook of American Foreign Policy. Her trip was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation she received through Centre College.
I arrived hungry at my hotel in Beijing around 9 p.m. on June 2. I Googled a nearby restaurant where I could get a quick meal but the Internet apparently wasn’t working. I chalked it up to a spotty connection at the hotel and instead took a walk around the area for a late dinner. The following morning, I realized what had happened. The news headline on CNN.com read “Chinese Government Blocks Google ahead of 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.”
On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government opened fire on students peacefully protesting in Tiananmen Square. Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms had begun to lift millions of Chinese out of poverty after Mao Zedong’s disastrous policies but no political liberalization followed. For weeks, thousands of youth camped out at the square campaigning for greater political transparency and civil rights. After a bitter inner party conflict (with a now publicly available transcript after a leak), the decision was made to evict the students by force. How many died is still unclear because of government pressure on independent groups, but at least hundreds were massacred.
Each year since, the government has gone to great lengths to prevent commemoration of the anniversary. Mothers of fallen students are threatened, suppressed and silenced, and human rights advocates are harassed, imprisoned and placed on house arrest. Given the significance of the 25th anniversary, the Party took measures to ensure that this June 4 would be no different. Making Internet navigation difficult was only a minor component of the strategy.
As a political scientist, I, of course, was not going to miss the opportunity to visit the Square on the fourth, but it did not come without challenges. My thirty-minute walk to the Square involved closed sidewalks, masses of security personnel, modified traffic rules, random passport checks and arbitrary searches. I had a kite I had purchased as a souvenir in my backpack, but on this day, it qualified as contraband and was confiscated.
Upon arrival, I could not miss the fact that the Square was eerily empty. Tiananmen is the world’s largest public square where, on a typical day, both locals and tourists stop by to see commemorative monuments, visit Mao’s mausoleum, appreciate the site’s monumental significance or simply meet friends. However, from the mausoleum on one end of the Square to the Gate of Heavenly Peace on the other, that day, there were no more than a dozen people at Tiananmen Square.
Of course, regardless of the day, the Chinese state does not offer its citizens the liberties that we are accustomed to in the United States. Still, in China, June 4 is always different, even twenty-five years on.
by Dina Badie
photo: Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies Dina Badie standing in an empty Tiananmen Square on the 25th anniversary of the massacre.