By Victoria Kjos
Friends and Family,
It is the 34th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which occurred on June 4, 1989 in Beijing.
How do I remember this? And, why should we care?
For those who read my India travelogue meanderings or later books, you may recall the nearly-fated odyssey, due to being stranded for two days at the Delhi Airport in 2012.
The mountains at the base of the Himalayas are often weathered-in, preventing flights. A group of us destined for Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, were victims of the weather.
But, eventually, the “Delhi Nine” as I characterized us, made it. But only through incredibly arduous and convoluted means (buses, metro, trains, rickshaws, vans, Volvo bus).
Unbelievably, it was all orchestrated by a cute, young Tibetan wearing bright-red glasses, with me serving as his go-between. Wearing street clothes, only later did I learn he was a monk of the Dalai Lama’s order.
Whiling away hours and hours at the airport, I began chatting with a fellow sitting next to me, Dr. Jianli Yang,** a lovely human being, whom I now feel privileged to consider a friend. Though he didn’t elaborate, likely the pain still 22 years later too intense to share much, he WAS one of the thousands, perhaps millions, in Tiananmen Square on that fateful, horrific day as the tanks rolled.
[** If you remember the tale, it was only espying Jianli’s white hat through the door of a massively crowded train that I reconnected with my fellow passengers from whom I’d become separated…my White-Hatted Knight indeed!]
He lost many friends as the horror unfolded. He later was imprisoned for five years in a Chinese prison. He never again can return to his homeland.
Citizen Power Initiatives for China
Holding Ph.D’s from both Berkeley and Harvard, no doubt it would’ve been relatively easy for Jianli to obtain prestigious, well-paid jobs. Instead, he’s dedicated his life in America striving to truly make a difference in the world, one of those rare individuals for whom I have enormous respect.
He runs this non-profit in Washington DC, dedicated to fighting for human rights everywhere and for democracy in China.
Over the years, Jianli has requested that I edit various of his speeches or articles. A great privilege in a small way to assist him, I’m always honored.
The most recent poignant speech was this, given at a candlelight vigil the night before, to honor the Tiananmen dead and to support today’s democracy movement in China.
Why Should We Care?
Perhaps many don’t.
It strikes me, though, that in this complex, interconnected world, for those who think about such matters, we ought to be concerned about fascist movements, policies, or regimes and authoritarian governments and dictatorships.
Everywhere we are experiencing greater restrictions on personal freedoms, whether in democracies or dictatorships. China seems to rank high on the list of concerning places.
Certainly, it’s much easier to focus on “my” life, my privilege, my family, my concerns, my problems. I understand that.
But today, I’m choosing thoughts of hope and support for China’s future.
Perhaps you will also.
China=Democracy: A Lost Cause
That’s likely a pretty commonly-held belief throughout the industrialized West. However, after recently editing many pieces for Jianli, I’m inspired by the continuing movement within China. (Much more so by the way than optimism for Russia, but that’s a different subject).
The heroes and heroines continue to protest, despite some activists being imprisoned multiple times. The recent inspirational student White Paper Movement. A common statement among protesters of: “The Angry are No Longer Afraid.” Or, as Jianli succinctly repeats: “I will never shut up.”
And lest we forget the Solidarity Movement in Poland. Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The Arab Spring. Even the Vietnam War protests.
It’s always the youth who demand or galvanize change. I choose to have faith, and hope, that ultimately they lead the revolution in China. Just imagine for a moment that powerful country of 1.3 billion people with democratic freedoms!
Whether or not actually spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, this is attributed to him:
“There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always.”
After two-and-one-half years, few wish to dredge up pandemic memories, or possibly even nightmares. We are all “over Covid.”
But Jianli remains adamant.
His organization did extensive research about the timeline of its discovery in Wuhan, the Chinese government’s response (or lack thereof), and the disappearance or imprisonment of whistle-blowers and dissidents. He continues to urge world leaders not to allow China to be exonerated and to be held accountable for its spread to the entire world.
The future, potential ramifications and economics of that concern are obvious. Of course, as are today’s political entanglements and pressing world issues, detracting from the past. I’m grateful that he remains a persistent thorn against complacency and lack of accountability.
The link below is from a 2020 Human Rights Watch conference where he spoke. I share it because he’s both an articulate, compelling speaker and impressive, tireless advocate. And, for friends and family, who know how much I cherish my Brother Jianli, you can hear him speak.
If no interest in watching it all, perhaps skip to the near end, although I found riveting the contrast between the “official government footage” and independently photograped segments by residents. Essentially what we around the world saw versus what the locals experienced.
His computer mysteriously quits working, something that has occurred for him at previous international events. The final two-minute crying plea of torment by a young woman in Wuhan will curl your toes. People do want change in China.
P.S. Tiananmen Square Massacre is not taught in Chinese schools. There is no reference to the incident on available Internet sites. No images exist in the public domain. Unless told about it by one’s elders, today’s Chinese youth are unaware of it.
At least this is what my research indicates, please Chinese friends or scholars, correct me if I am wrong.