Chinese enforce strict security on anniversary of crackdown

Police officers surround Tiananmen Square to prevent commemoration

June 05, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- On the most politically sensitive day in China, You Weijie and Huang Jinping voiced their sorrow and anger in the only way they could: silently.

Ten years ago, their husbands were gunned down near Tiananmen Square as soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers poured into the center of the Chinese capital to crush the student-led democracy movement.

Yesterday -- the 10th anniversary of the massacre -- police surrounded the square to prevent any attempt to commemorate those who died. In an act of quiet defiance beneath overcast skies, the two women rode their bicycles past the site where their husbands fell.

`Mourn the victims'

A bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums sat in one basket. Inside, a sheet of paper lay pressed against the wire mesh. "Mourn the victims of June 4th," it read, using the verbal shorthand for the crackdown here.

"It's already been 10 years since June 4th, but the government ignores this incident," said You, who is about 40, summarizing the feelings of fellow mourners. "As the living, we feel we have to stand up and carry on doing this."

Security remained tight around the square yesterday, and there were only two reported incidents. Police detained an unidentified young man who threw leaflets into the air near the giant portrait of Mao Tse-tung that overlooks the square.

The leaflets demanded democracy and an end to corruption, the demands of the students who occupied the square 10 years ago. But the fliers also contained the sort of nationalistic slogans -- "Long Live Chairman Mao!" and "Down with American Imperialism!" -- that have been popular here since last month's NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Later in the day, another man opened a white umbrella, baring a message that demanded the government "return state property to the common people and remember the 10th anniversary of the student movement."

Police detained him, too.

The square, which is under renovation for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China Oct.1, was enveloped by blue metal walls. It was opened to the public yesterday morning, but closed in the afternoon.

Ten uniformed police guarded one intersection. Plainclothes officers lurked about the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the huge gate where Mao's portrait hangs. As a foreign reporter approached on bicycle, a plainclothes policewoman in shorts quickly lifted her camera to take his picture.

1 million protesters

In the spring of 1989, 1 million protesters jammed the sprawling expanse of concrete to demand free speech, a free press and political dialogue with the nation's authoritarian leaders. On the night of June 3, the regime sent soldiers into the city to clear the area. People around the world watched in horror as the People's Liberation Army turned its guns on the people of China.

At the Muxidi intersection in West Beijing, unarmed citizens tried to stop the army with barricades made of overturned buses. Soldiers fired their AK-47s wildly into the crowds and stabbed demonstrators with bayonets.

Observers estimate that at least hundreds died, though the government has refused to give a full accounting of the violence. It branded the democratic uprising a "counter-revolutionary riot."

Thursday evening near Muxidi, most people seemed oblivious to the carnage wrought there a decade ago. The deaths seemed far from anyone's mind as hundreds of couples did the fox trot to recorded saxophone music.

Through the use of the state-run media and systematic repression, the regime has done a masterful job of rewriting the history of the massacre and keeping most of those who live outside Beijing from figuring out what happened.

After riding past the square yesterday morning, You Weijie and Huang Jinping joined the relatives of other victims at the Eternal Peace Cemetery in the shadow of the Fragrant Hills on the western edge of the city. Plainclothes and uniformed police patrolled outside the metal cemetery gates, where a sign warned foreign journalists that they were not welcome.

Inside the cemetery, You and Huang placed the ashes of their loved ones -- which they keep at home -- on the grave of a victim named Yuan Li. Yuan, a 28-year-old engineer, had planned to attend graduate school in New Jersey before he was shot through the throat at Muxidi.

As police watched, the relatives lit incense, sprinkled "baijiao," a potent Chinese liquor, and laid fresh flowers on the grave site.

Police question reporters

After leaving the cemetery, the family members stopped briefly to chat with foreign reporters before police officers scared them away. Police questioned the reporters for about a half-hour by the side of the road before letting them go.

Li Xueweng, the 73-year-old mother of Yuan Li, said her youngest son never believed the army would shoot protesters that night. After searching through many hospitals, she found his body two weeks later.

"The authorities advocate gradually forgetting about June 4th, but how can parents forget about it?" she said. "We have never had any happiness after my son was killed."

Reuters contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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