Chinese students began their protests at Tiananmen Square twenty-five years ago today. The massacre that occurred six weeks later — death toll estimates range from several hundred to several thousand — continues to shape Chinese history, if only because the current regime is committed to erasing “massacre-memory”:
It uses both push and pull to do this. “Push” includes warnings and threats, and — for the recalcitrant — computer and cell-phone confiscation, passport denial, employment loss, bank-account seizure, and the like, and — for the truly stubborn — house arrest or prison. “Pull” includes “invitations to tea” at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres; advice that it is still not too late to make this kind of adjustment; comparisons with others who are materially better off for having made just that decision; offers of food, travel, employment, and other emoluments (larger if one cooperates by reporting on others); and counsel that it is best not to reveal the content of all this friendly tea-talk to anyone else.
The excerpt above is from Perry Link’s Foreword to the just-published Tiananmen Exiles, an oral history of “The Struggle for Democracy in China” by Harvard scholar Rowena Xiaoqing He. In The People’s Republic of Amnesia, also commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen, NPR China correspondent Louisa Lim documents other dissident voices attempting to “clamor against the crime of silence” and forgetting.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.