Chinese Students Abroad Discover the Tiananmen Square Massacre

When I was in New Zealand a decade ago I got to know a young Chinese university student who was in the middle of reevaluating the Chinese Communist Party’s version of what happened at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

In China, she said, the official story was that only a few people were killed at Tiananmen and they were policemen who were murdered by counter-revolutionaries.

After spending some time researching online and in the university library, she no longer could believe what she had been told by the Party. “They killed the protesters and ran over them with tanks,” I can remember her saying.

Armored personnel carriers on Tiananmen Square during June, 1989. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Armored personnel carriers on Tiananmen Square during June, 1989. (Screenshot/YouTube)

I recently thought of her after reading about a Chinese student studying at a university in the U.S. who released an open letter last month which called for mainland students to discuss the events of June 4, 1989.

The letter was cosigned by ten other Chinese students.

This is how the letter begins:

“We are a group of Chinese students born in the 1980s and 1990s and now studying abroad. Twenty-six years ago on June 4th, young students, in life’s prime with innocent love for their country just as we are today, died under the gun of the People’s Liberation Army in Beijing’s streets. This part of history has since been so carefully edited and shielded away that many of us today know very little about it. Currently outside China, we have been able to access photos, videos and news, and listen to the accounts of survivors, unfettered. We feel the aftershocks of this tragedy across the span of a quarter century. The more we know, the more we feel we have a grave responsibility on our shoulders…”

You can read the rest of the letter HERE.

A state-run newspaper on the mainland condemned the letter for “twisting the facts of 26 years ago with narratives of some overseas hostile forces,” reported CNN.

Meanwhile the Party censors online search results for “June 4” and “Tiananmen Square” (just as it does to words related to Falun Gong and Tibet among others).

If the events of spring 1989 get a mention at all in China, it is referred to as an “incident” or a “counterrevolutionary riot” which warranted suppression.

The featured video above, produced in 2009, features Human Rights Watch’s Carroll Bogert who was in Beijing covering the seven week democracy protests as a journalist for Newsweek. In it she says that immediately after the massacre the authorities offered “unembarrassed, unashamed” denials that it had occurred.



It is estimated that over a thousand people were mowed down and killed in Tiananmen by the PLA on June 4.

More people were killed by the authorities around the same time at 20 other pro-democracy protest sites across China. In the city of Chengdu some estimates of those killed were in the hundreds reports Time.

For an on the ground report at Tiananmen on June 4 see below:

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