Imagine being told it is illegal to remember the death of a loved one, to remember the day your life changed forever, to remember the most noble parts of youth’s idealism and being human.
That is what Communist China has told its people they must do in the case of the Tiananmen Square incident, which occurred on June 4 and 5, 1989. I understand that Hong Kong citizens (due to their significantly different history with China’s government) have been diligent about creating candlelight vigils every year since then in their own large Victoria Park—especially because their Chinese friends across the South China Sea are unable to do so. Things are different this year, though, and it has many in Hong Kong concerned.
Here’s a clip from National Public Radio this morning, describing the 1989 incident:
On June 4 that year, protesters and onlookers in Beijing — many of them young students — were killed by Chinese troops instructed to violently put down a sustained democratic movement. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Records remain incomplete and Beijing has never publicly confirmed a death toll. Any public mention of the massacre is forbidden in mainland China.
When my immediate family visited Beijing, China as part of a major family trip to see Hong Kong (my spouse’s country of origin) in 2009, we went to Tiananmen Square. My brother-in-law, who frequently had business in China and was then living in Shanghai, kindly offered to be our acting tour guide for our visit. That day in Beijing, even before he could tell us what significant place we were standing in, I looked at him startled, and blurted out: “OMG! This is the place where that single man faced down that line of tanks!” He immediately looked frightened to hear me make this observation with the unchecked volume of someone unaware of how oppression works.
“LeAnn, lower your voice, please,” he said to me very seriously and quietly. “It is very important that no one hears us talking about this.” His faced looked stern with alarm.
I’ll never forget that moment. I tasted the flavor of freedom more keenly in my own body that day.
Today, these 12 years later, freedom is an even more cherished value of mine. Though I no longer see it as the ability to be true to yourself.
I believe freedom is the ability to take responsibility for creating change.
It is to work with God to make justice and compassion for ALL people “roll down like waters,” and to help “right relationship with God and each other move like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
The NPR article continues:
“It’s not possible to kill the memory of an atrocity or to totally wipe out what happened, and it’s actually counterproductive,” said Jeremy Brown, a historian at Simon Fraser University in Canada. “Remembering becomes resistance.”
In quiet ways all over Hong Kong and even China, people are lighting candles, dressing fully in black, inscribing the numbers 6/4 on light switches—so that each time a person flips a switch to illuminate a space, they might also be reminded that it is possible to live our lives in ways that diminish illumination, as well.
Whether or not you were even alive to remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre, perhaps this day we might all, everywhere in the world, use our freedom to stand in solidarity with those whose freedom is much more fragile. May we find our own special ways to honor those fighting against oppression everywhere.