Today in China, unlike twenty-three years ago, nothing happens. Nothing at all. Now check out the latest Panda pics! That appears the message going out to a billion Chinese. The government has blocked any mention of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 1989. In addition, the country is rounding up dissidents and anyone else who might mention the anniversary or utter thoughts of freedom.
If you are on the Internet in China, you will also find other terms blocked like “six four”, “23”, “candle” and “never forget.” Thousands of censors and tens of thousands of police officers have been mobilized to erase any memory or mention of the killings, beating, and arrests of pro-democracy protesters.
On my trips to China, I often discuss the crackdown with young people that I meet. They are very reluctant to discuss the event, but many know of it. However, it is depressing to see how many young people have learned to be passive in the face of government controls. There is an intense materialism but is more common than idealism. That may be the worse part of the crackdown. The government has convinced an entire generation that rights are not as important as economic advancement. The result is a nation that can seem engaged in a soulless pursuit of wealth — far more evident than in the “capitalistic West.” Obviously, there remain that portion of the society which secretly desire and work for greater freedoms. The government is obsessed with the lingering number of Chinese who are not content to trade free speech for the chance at a car or better apartment. I have always viewed the civil libertarians and environmentalists as some of the most inspiring heroes — with women fighting for greater rights in the Middle East and other true heroes of our generation.
In the end, even the massive Chinese propaganda machine and state-control media cannot destroy an idea . . . and a memory.