20 Years Later, Is Tiananmen Square History?

When university students decided to go on a hunger strike May 13, it quickly blossomed into a virtual occupation of Tiananmen Square. The Chinese leaders were humiliated two days later when they couldn't hold the welcoming ceremony for the visiting Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a designated area near the square. They decided to declare martial law, but the first batch of soldiers were blocked by the residents, and they failed to enter the square. After a stalemate of almost two weeks, the soldiers finally opened fire and made their way to the square.

Chinese authorities have continued to defend the use of deadly force against what they once described as a "counterrevolutionary riot." But they have modified their characterizations with the passage of time. They have started to refer to the demonstrations as "turmoil" and a "political disturbance" and more recently settled for calling it "the Tiananmen incident."

When asked recently by a reporter if the Chinese government would ever apologize for what it did 20 years ago, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu replied, "It is not appropriate for you to use the word apologize."

He reiterated the government's position: "Facts have proven that the path taken by China is in line with the actual situation in China and in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people."

While China has undergone a massive transformation in the years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, many things have remained the same.

Young Chinese Largely Unmoved by Tiananmen History

Young Chinese people here today are largely unaware of the significance of this day. Those who use the Internet find pages referencing Tiananmen Square blocked. Many know that some sort of incident occurred June 4, 1989, but they don't know much more. And largely, it seems they don't really care. The younger generation believes what happened in Tiananmen Square does not affect their lives.

One 25-year-old Chinese professional in Beijing told ABC News that "We are worried about getting a good job and making money. Whatever happened 20 years ago does not affect us today. It's history."

Indeed, China has experienced an unparalleled economic boom. The Chinese people, as a whole, have more money today than ever before. For many here, that is enough progress.

We did several interviews with those involved in the pro-democracy protests. We had to do them two months in advance because activists always run the risk of being placed under lockdown during sensitive times in China.

Jiang Qisheng is still a pro-democracy activist and was a student leader in 1989. He has been imprisoned several times and is under constant surveillance, but he talks to foreign journalists because he still believes he must do something. He was involved with Charter '08, an open letter calling for democratic reforms that was signed by dozens of activists and scholars, many of whom have been arrested. But Jiang has no regrets.

"I will live on like this," he told ABC News. "I will keep speaking out and writing about the truth to let the world know it and tell the people about my ideas, to work with others who would like to pay the price to realize democracy in China."

His goal will not be an easy one to accomplish. Today, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on Tiananmen Square, Jiang and his family are under house arrest with police guarding their home.

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