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Students Urge Justice on Tiananmen Anniversary

University of Georgia graduate student, Gu Yi poses for a self-portrait wearing a T-shirt with the words “Support Tiananmen Mothers” at his home in Athens, Georgia. Mr. Gu is author of an open letter calling for his compatriots to learn more about the Tiananmen crackdown 26 years ago.
University of Georgia graduate student, Gu Yi poses for a self-portrait wearing a T-shirt with the words “Support Tiananmen Mothers” at his home in Athens, Georgia. Mr. Gu is author of an open letter calling for his compatriots to learn more about the Tiananmen crackdown 26 years ago.
Students Urge Justice on Tiananmen Anniversary
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A group of overseas Chinese students calls for action against Communist Party leaders connected to the violence in Tiananmen Square 26 years ago.

The college students call for Communist Party leaders to be punished in an open letter. University of Georgia graduate student Gu Yi wrote the letter. Ten other students also signed the letter. The activist students want to bring attention to the incident in which hundreds and possibly thousands of protesters were killed.

Each year, officials in Beijing detain people considered “sensitive” before the Tiananmen Square anniversary. The demonstrators had gathered at the square in central Beijing to call for democratic reforms and an end to official corruption. China also does not permit any public discussion or commemoration of the People’s Liberation Army’s campaign against student protestors. As a result, many young Chinese are unaware of even the basic details of what many consider the defining moment of the Chinese Communist Party.

Students make demands

The students writing the letter hope their open letter will raise public awareness within China.

The letter says: “The more we know, the more we feel we have a grave responsibility on our shoulders...We are writing you this open letter, fellow college students inside China, to share the truth with you and to expose crimes that have been perpetrated up to this day in connection with the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.

The letter continues, saying: “We do not ask the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) to redress the events of that spring, as killers are not the ones we turn to clear the names of the dead, but killers must be tried. We do not forget, nor forgive, until justice is done and the ongoing persecution is halted.”

The document has been more widely read after the Communist Party-operated Global Times newspaper wrote an editorial denouncing the letter. The newspaper criticized the students for extreme views. It said the student letter, “harshly attacked the current Chinese regime, twisting the facts of 26 years ago with narratives of some overseas hostile forces.”

The editorial continued to denounce foreign influence saying: “If the letter is truly written by a few students overseas, we have to say that those young people have been brainwashed in foreign countries, copying the paranoid minority overseas.”

The China Digital Times website says Chinese officials later demanded that the Global Times remove its editorial from its official news site. It is possible that the editorial had the opposite effect that was meant.

Chinese leaders do not discuss the Tiananmen crackdown often. They usually justify the violent crackdown by pointing to China’s economic success.

A former Chinese adviser speaks out

This week, an advisor to former Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang presented a different argument. Bao Tong wrote an opinion in the New York Times, which was published Wednesday. He said many people want the Communist Party leadership to “voluntarily admit the injustice and illegality of the killings.”

He said he hoped this would happen, but he said he did not believe they would “because so far there have not been many signs to suggest that this will happen.”

Bao Tong also denounced the widespread corruption of the Communist Party. He said it permitted powerful officials and their family members to grow rich at the expense of others.

China has launched a major campaign to fight official corruption. But Mr. Bao said it would not be effective because independent citizens are threatened if they expose corruption.

“Popular movements to combat corruption are, as they were in 1989, sternly repressed,” he said.

Bao Tong worked for former Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang who was sympathetic to the student protestors 26 years ago. However, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping later ousted Mr. Ziyang.

Mr. Bao says he has been prevented from speaking to reporters for the past month. Hong Kong media later said he was one of a number of people forced to leave Beijing before Thursday’s anniversary.

US calls for release of activists on anniversary

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called on China to release activists detained on charges related to Tiananmen observances. He also called on China to stop harassing those who want to commemorate the anniversary.

In a statement, Mr. Kirby said, “The United States urges the Chinese government to uphold its international commitments to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

William Gallo reported this story for VOA. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

sensitive – adj. (in this usage) needing to be handled in a special or secret way

editorial – n. a document published in newspapers or online which gives the opinions of the editors or publishers

regime – n. a form of government

narrative(s) – n. a story that is written or told

paranoid – adj. having or showing unreasonable feelings that people are trying to harm you or do not like you; feeling or showing the condition of paranoia