35 Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, We Must Never Forget

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35 Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, We Must Never Forget

If you type today’s date in an online comment box or chat within China, your message will immediately be flagged by government censoring software and examined for content. You might be automatically disconnected from any forum, website or game you were linked to while government agents assess the context of what you wrote. And depending on the details of that context, you could soon hear a knock at your door.

The reason for the extreme sensitivity is because the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) do not want anyone to remember what they did on June 4 of 1989. So they go to extreme lengths trying to blot this dark day out of the Chinese memory.

‘A Sense of Going Somewhere’

In the months before June 4, 1989, many in the West looked upon China with admiration and hope. The admiration was for the millions of Chinese university students and other citizens who dared to question the country’s corrupt authoritarian Communist government. The hope was that the peaceful protests of these students would bring about real political reform in the world’s most populous nation.

“China in the late 1980s was in the midst of social, political and cultural ferment, a world that was heady with possibilities,” wrote Ilaria Maria Sala, an exchange student living in Beijing at the time.

The possibilities appeared limitless. China’s longtime dictator, Chairman Mao Zedong, had died in 1976. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, had dismantled the policies of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution. Deng and his reformists launched wide-ranging programs to transform the economy. They began shifting some economic sectors, most notably agriculture, away from the collectivist, Communist model and toward privatization. To justify his adoption of certain capitalist-leaning policies, Deng sometimes said: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white: As long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat.”

In 1978, Deng opened the Chinese economy up to the world.

The results of these reforms were profound. Throughout the 1980s, China underwent astounding economic growth; millions of Chinese were lifted out of extreme poverty. The government’s censorship policies were also dramatically relaxed. Books that had been banned under Mao, both Chinese and Western, began circulating throughout the country. “The bookshops were full of translations from every language,” Sala wrote. “Magazines and newspapers were at their most interesting, with long investigative pieces,” and the “literary world was challenged with new thinking every week.”

Many Chinese suddenly had deep exposure to Western ideas and standards of living. And they were hungry for more.

By spring of 1989, millions of Chinese had learned enough to know that their country needed more reforms to become as free and prosperous as the West. Princeton University professor Perry Link, who lived in Beijing at the time, explained the prevailing sentiment: “Deng Xiaoping, introducing the reform and opening up era, had famously said: Cross the river by feeling the stones. But Deng never told what the other side of the river was like. But there was a river, a sense of going somewhere.”

University students took the lead in calling not just for more reform in economic policy but also for political change.

The students saw that communism and Mao’s related ideas had resulted in suffering and stagnation. They wanted the ccp to stop governing China dictatorially. They believed the people should have a voice in how their lives were run. They sought individual rights, freedom and democracy.

On April 15, 1989, a high-ranking ccp official who had encouraged moves toward democracy died. Tens of thousands of Chinese University students gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, using the official’s death as an opportunity to rally together in their calls for reforms and freedom. Over the next several weeks, the students and other reformists continued assembling in the square. Artists among them built a towering plaster statue in the square’s northern end called “Goddess of Democracy.” The 33-foot-tall structure became the focal point for the movement.

The government initially responded only with stern warnings. But the students were not intimidated, and their energy and optimism were infectious. The demonstrations began spreading into dozens of other Chinese cities, and then hundreds. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese people were joining in because they believed life for them and their families could be better. They knew the ccp elites who controlled them were self-serving tyrants. These individuals wanted opportunity, and a chance to live stable lives, without government bureaucrats growing fat off of their labor. The protests were infused with the hope that China could become a democracy and a land of opportunity and prosperity.

It seemed that change was imminent.

A few ccp leaders thought the government should negotiate with the protesters and make some significant changes. But the hard-liners, including Chinese Premier Li Peng, were terrified of where it might lead if the government started to compromise. They feared that if a revolution were to break out, their power could come to an end and they might even personally suffer violence. So the ccp leadership determined to forcibly suppress the protests.

‘Machine Guns Against Ordinary People’

In mid May, the ccp declared martial law in Beijing. The government stationed troops from the People’s Liberation Army (pla) around the city. But since the protesters flooded the streets, the soldiers couldn’t reach the core of the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

On the evening of June 3, ccp leaders issued a new order to their soldiers: Advance into Tiananmen Square despite who or what may be in your path, and clear the square by early morning of June 4.

Jiang Lin was a 33-year-old lieutenant in the pla at the time. After keeping quiet for decades about the carnage she witnessed in Tiananmen Square that night, she broke her silence in a 2019 interview with the New York Times. “How could fate suddenly turn so that you could use tanks and machine guns against ordinary people?” she asked. “The People’s Liberation Army is the people’s military, and it should not enter the city or fire on civilians.”

Jiang said many in the pla objected to the government’s plan to use force on civilians. But ccp leaders ignored the objections and reiterated the orders. And throughout the night of June 3 and 4, pla soldiers forced their way toward Tiananmen Square, shooting or rolling tanks over any who stood up to them.

Describing what she witnessed that night, Jiang said: “It felt like watching my own mother being raped. It was unbearable. … The pain has eaten at me for 30 years.” (Jiang left China just days before her Times interview was published.)

By June 5, the military had established complete control of Tiananmen Square and all of the city. The ccp immediately shifted into damage control mode, airbrushing the event. They said the protesters had attacked the Army, provoking the pla reaction. They dramatically revised down the number who had protested and said the death toll was negligible—just a couple of hundred.

But a British diplomatic cable written that day exposes the true scope of the massacre, and confirms the testimony of Jiang and many other eye witnesses. “Minimum estimate of civilian dead 10,000,” the cable states. The cable was written by Sir Alan Donald, Britain’s ambassador to China at the time, and was declassified in 2017. This figure aligns with United States intelligence estimates and is supported by photo and video evidence.

Sir Alan’s cable included some gruesome details about the massacre. He wrote that a few waves of troops were sent into the square unarmed, to break up the groups of demonstrators. Then the 27 Army of Shanxi Province— a military company specifically chosen because its soldiers were from outside of Beijing and wouldn’t have personal ties with any of the protesters—was commanded to attack both the protesters and those unarmed troops: “The 27 Army’s apcs [armoured personnel carriers] opened fire on the crowd—both civilians and soldiers—before running over them,” he wrote. “Students understood they were given one hour to leave [the] square, but after five minutes apcs attacked. Students linked arms but were mown down. apcs then ran over the bodies time and time again … and remains [were] collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains.”

Sir Alan also wrote chilling details about wounded female students who pleaded for their lives but were bayoneted to death. He wrote about a young mother who was fatally shot as she tried to assist her wounded 3-year-old daughter.

He added: “One thousand survivors were told they could escape via Zhengyi Lu [a pedestrian avenue], but were then mown down by specially prepared [machine gun] positions.”

History Erased

While visiting Tiananmen Square in the summer of 2017, with children playing in the sun and thousands of people posing for photos and sipping lemonade, it was difficult to envision the merciless attack that had taken place there back in 1989. And that is precisely how the Chinese Communist Party wants the situation to remain. From the beginning, the ccp downplayed the significance of the event. And in the 35 years since, it has labored tirelessly to scrub the massacre—and the people’s hunger for democracy that led up to it—from history and from memory.

Some Chinese people refuse to forget. In the early days of the Internet, they began using the code date “May 35th to discuss the events of June 4th with each other. This and other coded language allowed them to keep their discussions from being flagged by China’s armies of censors. Now, however, even “May 35th” and other code words are banned from all online conversations within the Great Firewall of China. The government’s array of tools for finding and erasing online content about the massacre have achieved remarkable levels of efficiency. And anyone who brings up the Tiananmen Square massacre can be fined and even imprisoned.

The Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on discussing the topic has been tremendously successful. And as the years go by, fewer Chinese are aware of the massacre and fewer are worried about the ccp’s ruthlessness. Instead of hating the government for its slaughter and cover-up, most of China’s people today embrace the ccp. “While 6/4 may still resonate with journalists and China watchers, the vast majority of the Chinese public has moved on,” wrote Christopher K. Colley, assistant professor of Security Studies at the National Defense College of the United Arab Emirates.

Colley says the tendency of Western media to focus on Chinese dissidents such as Jiang Lin obscures the view of how politically unified post-6/4 China has become. “By focusing on fringe dissidents, this discussion on China’s rise risks missing the forest for the trees,” he wrote. “By cherry-picking individual Chinese dissidents who espouse Western democratic norms, we are neglecting the fact that most Chinese actually support the Chinese Communist Party.”

He continued: “The real story of 6/4 anniversaries today is … that times in China have never been better, thus providing a weak incentive for Chinese to resurrect the ghosts of 6/4. Whether the West likes it or not, the ccp has delivered to the Chinese people in a way that most would have thought impossible on June 5, 1989.”

Colley’s analysis is confirmed by Boston University’s Joseph Fewsmith, whose research shows that 85 percent of Chinese are “relatively or extremely satisfied with the central government.” It is further confirmed by political scientist Bruce Dickson who conducted face-to-face interviews with some 4,000 Chinese in 50 cities, concluding that the Chinese Communist Party”enjoys a surprisingly high level of popular support.”

The Chinese people’s approval of the ccp is especially significant in light of how powerful its current leader has become. In early 2012, Xi Jinping was essentially unknown in Chinese politics. But he assumed the office of general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in November of that year. And in the time since, he has adopted a strongman approach that shows there’s little he wouldn’t do to keep and increase his power. Most notably, Xi has rewritten the rules to abolish presidential term limits, meaning he is now free to rule China for as long as he lives.

On this 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the world should remember that the same Chinese Communist Party that authored that 1989 evil is still in power. And the party has never apologized or expressed remorse. In fact, former Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe said that the massacre was justified. “That incident was a political turbulence,” he said in 2019, “and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence, which is a correct policy.”

Under Xi, the ccp continues to justify its violence, tighten its grip on China, and eradicate internal dissent. Instead of fearing this totalitarianism, a robust majority of China’s 1.4 billion people stand behind him and the ccp.

The world should be sobered to see Xi Jinping’s China armed to the teeth and increasingly determined not only to dominate the Chinese people but also to assert its dark will beyond China’s borders. We should remember what ccp leaders are willing to do to their own people to protect power. How much more would they do to outsiders whom they view as threats? We should see that the threat Xi poses to global stability is greatly intensified by the people’s support of him. The people increasingly buy into his vision of a China-dominated world—a world in which any who challenge the ccp should suffer Tiananmen Square-style violence.

The Trumpet watches Xi’s tightening power grip because Bible prophecy shows that as the U.S.’s influence on the global stage declines, two main powers will rise up in its place: one will be a European bloc that operates in the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire, and the other will be an Asian power called in Revelation 16:12 “the kings of the east.”

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has pointed to scriptures in Ezekiel 38 to explain that this Asian bloc will be led by Russia, with China in a position of secondary leadership. Revelation 9:16 says this Asiatic force will field an army of 200 million men. With 85 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people supportive of Xi, it is easy to see how such a massive army could soon come together. And it seems this will not be a force of reluctant conscripts but of zealous men driven by the leadership’s vision.

The Bible makes clear—in such chapters as Jeremiah 50 and 51, Daniel 11 and 12, Revelation 16 and Matthew 24—that a clash between this European bloc and this 200 million-man Asian force will contribute to the most violent war in man’s history. It will be orders of magnitude more violent than what the Chinese who longed for democracy suffered 35 years ago today.

The significance of Xi’s increasing power and China’s growing backing for him and the ccp is shown in these scriptures. These trends also reveal just how close this future clash between Europe and Asia may be.

This points to a time of unprecedented violence on the horizon. But the Bible shows that the era of extreme violence will be closely followed by the most peaceful imaginable future. Our free booklet Russia and China in Prophecy explains:

Are you awake to what is really happening in this world? Think about this: The soldiers of Europe, Russia and China today are some of the same soldiers that will march from Megiddo to Jerusalem to be destroyed by Jesus Christ Himself!

That is how close we are getting to the end of this age of man! Are you ready for what is about to occur?

Revelation 19 describes Christ’s triumph over the evil forces of man. This victory ushers in the World Tomorrow, when Jesus Christ will rule this Earth with His saints! For 1,000 years, the world will blossom in abundant peace and prosperity!

Seeing both the global war that looms on the horizon and the “abundant peace and prosperity” that lies just beyond it should stir us to get to know God and to work to escape the coming destruction. The Bible makes clear that individuals and families can be protected. To understand these prophecies, and the deep hope that is interwoven in them, read Russia and China in Prophecy.