Tiananmen massacre marked despite police patrols

June 05, 1995|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Through moments of silence and reckless acts of defiance, dozens of Beijing residents yesterday proved wrong the conventional wisdom that the sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has been forgotten.

While many people spent yesterday doing their best to have fun and ignore the thousands of police deployed to squelch protests of the June 4, 1989, massacre, others ran the risk of long prison terms to stage commemorations.

At least four people were seized by police in two separate incidents of throwing paper money in the giant plaza, where the 1989 student-led protests were headquartered. Paper money is traditionally thrown in the air at Chinese funerals, so yesterday's acts probably were designed to remember the hundreds killed by army troops in and around the square.

In one action at 2 p.m., at least three people threw paper money and were immediately detained by police, according to eyewitnesses. Sanitation workers and police trucks materialized in seconds to sweep up the paper, while crowds on the massive square surged forward to look.

At sunset almost six hours later, as the Chinese national flag was being lowered on the north end of the square, a young man tossed paper money in the air and was immediately surrounded by police. He was shoved into a police truck and driven away.

Besides countering the widespread theory that the Chinese have been numbed into inactivity because of cynicism and the country's recent economic boom, the acts were a display of courage and tenacity because the protesters ran a heavy police gantlet to reach the square.

The 100-acre heart of the city was heavily patrolled by scores of police and security officials, with members of the People's Armed Police standing guard at the pedestrian underpasses leading to the square, turning away young people whose identity papers showed they were students.

Meanwhile, public security officers, dressed inconspicuously in dark pants and white shirts, their walkie-talkies bulging out of their hip pockets or wrapped in newspapers, milled around in the sunshine.

Foreign television news crews that tried to film were hustled away. Some were detained, and their film erased, others were firmly escorted off the square before they could set up their tripods.

Although security has been tight every June 4, observers said precautions were extra strong this year for several reasons. For the first time since the massacre, the anniversary fell on a weekend, giving working people more opportunity to visit the square.

More importantly, dissidents have been stepping up activity in recent weeks, sending a half-dozen petitions to the leadership asking for tolerance, free speech and an objective inquiry into the 1989 massacre, which was triggered by dissatisfaction over the high level of corruption and slow pace of political reform.

The Dalai Lama, exiled god-king of Tibet, continued the push yesterday, calling for international support for China's beleaguered pro-democracy movement.

"I wish to pay my respect to those who died for freedom, democracy and human rights for your great nation," he said in a message issued to China from his home in exile in India. The Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, a few months after the massacre.

Over the past weeks, the government began preparing for the anniversary by rounding up dissidents and anyone else deemed a risk to public security.

Even artists have felt the brunt of the government's anxiety. In northern Beijing, artists disbanded a famous artists' colony after police harassment became intolerable. East of the city, another colony was closed by police, ostensibly because the artists did not have Beijing residency permits.

The heavy security was especially evident Friday and Saturday evening, when bars and cafes throughout Beijing were summarily closed for no reason other than to discourage gatherings.

A drive through Beijing at night showed clusters of People's Armed Police soldiers standing near their vans, waiting for any trouble.

At Beijing University -- the country's elite school that gave the 1989 movement some of its leaders -- some students put up poems and cartoons criticizing the government despite 24-hour police surveillance of bulletin boards.

One cartoon showed three fat pigs rushing to eat students' food, a criticism of corruption and officials who benefited from the 1989 demonstrations. Written above the picture was a pun that meant "anniversary of the massacre and martial law." Two hours after the cartoon was pasted up, officials got the joke and tore it down.

A walk through the university grounds Saturday night showed a quiet campus policed by truncheon-wielding security officers. Despite a report by the official Xinhua news agency that students danced to rock music, no concerts were spotted.

Toward 11 p.m., a dozen students gathered near a lake on the campus. Sheltered by bushes from police patrols, they stood in a circle, their heads bowed. Then they joined hands and silently prayed for the dead.

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