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Demands of Tiananmen Still Unmet, 25 Years Later

This photo of a man blocking a line of tanks in June 5, 1989 has become the iconic image of the Tiananmen Square protest.

This photo of a man blocking a line of tanks in June 5, 1989 has become the iconic image of the Tiananmen Square protest.

Twenty five years have passed since China acted against pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Since then, the leadership in China has taken strong steps to suppress any discussion of the events of 1989. The leaders seemingly want people to forget the huge protests and the bloody campaign against demonstrators that followed.

But memory is long – especially for the protesters who were there. And 25 years have not ended the demands of the students and other citizens who gathered in the streets at that time.

Anna Matteo has the story.

In the spring of 1989, people demonstrated for democracy in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. They called for change. Their calls for change were heard down the city’s streets. After a time, their calls for change were heard across the nation.

Students and other citizens joined in the movement. One of the demonstrators was Fang Zheng (Fahng Jung), a student and a promising sports star. At that time hopes were high. The protesters thought they could succeed. He spoke with VOA on Skype.

"University students in the ‘80s all had a similar attitude. They were all very idealistic. We also had a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the fate of our country."

That all changed on June 4th, violently, for Fang Zheng and the rest of country. He was nearly killed when a tank ran over his legs.

"The government used guns, force and blood to hold onto their power and control the protestors. And that took China further away from reform. Corruption is worse now than 25 years ago. The special power and privileges of officials are even more widespread."

The protesters had seven basic demands. One of these demands was for officials and their family members to make public how much money they were receiving. Another was the right to freely protest in Beijing.

But still, a quarter of a century later, those two demands remain distant goals.

China's leaders say they are in a life and death struggle against corruption. But calls for those same officials to make known their financial holdings have met with strong resistance.

China's President Xi Jinping has launched wide reforms. But Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong says Mr. Xi has been silent on the basic demands of the Chinese public.

"And what do the people desire? People want a separation of power. People want to have a check and balance on the exercise of power. And people want to have all the constitutional rights that they are entitled to."

China's constitution permits protests, or the right to gather. That is said to be true if the protests do not interfere with the interests of the state.

Andrew Nathan is a political scientist at Columbia University. He says the students and workers who gathered in Tiananmen in 1989 wanted a dialogue. They wanted to talk with the government.

"In ‘89, the government, the ruling party, really decided if we dialogue with you lot, I mean there is no knowing what you are going to start demanding from us and then we are not going to be authoritarian rulers anymore."

But China's official position on Tiananmen is that it was a counter-revolutionary rebellion, a rebellion against the state. The government refused to talk with protesters then. And there is no sign that that position is changing anytime soon.

I’m Anna Matteo.

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