(FILES) Picture dated 22 April 1989 shows students gesturing and shouting slogans as they pay respect in Beijing to former Chinese Communist Party leader and liberal reformer Hu Yaobang as thousands of students gather near the monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square during an unauthorized demonstration to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang. His death in April trigged an unprecedented wave of pro-democracy demonstrations. The April-June 1989 movement was crushed by Chinese troops in June when army tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square 04 June. AFP PHOTO (Photo by CATHERINE HENRIETTE / AFP)

It has been 30 years since the June 4th massacre. On April 21, 1989, the most important Chinese mass movement of the last half-century erupted in Tiananmen Square when Beijing students gathered to mourn the death of a Communist Party leader who sought reform. Soon, massive crowds calling for change were converging on the central plazas of dozens of Chinese cities.

On May 20, the government imposed martial law in Beijing. The capital’s Tiananmen Square was the site of the largest rallies. Two weeks later, on June 4, the Chinese military descended on Tiananmen Square and moved to end pro-democracy demonstrations.

The movement ended after soldiers fired on unarmed civilians on the streets of the capital, killing as many as several thousand people, making it one of the most brutal crackdowns in modern history. At the height of the protests, at least a million people were estimated to have participated in the demonstrations.

Over the years, Beijing has taken a two-pronged approach to the massacre. Domestically, the incident is ignored in history books, and discussion about it is totally prohibited to the point that many young people know nothing about what happened. In arguments directed to the international community, Beijing has said the crackdown was necessary to ensure social stability, which it says was a precondition for the market-driven changes that have since transformed China into the world’s second-largest economy.

We remember the June 4 incident in China’s history, just as we remember unfortunate chapters in the world’s history. Pretending it never happened is not an option. After three generations of leadership since the student protests, there are signs the authorities are loosening online censorship of related subjects, although direct mention of “June 4th” is still banned. The bloody incident is a tragedy and this painful chapter must be faced in Chinese history. We call upon Chinese leaders to learn a lesson from this historically significant human rights incident, to ensure that it is never repeated. We also hope that they will take the steps necessary to redress the pain and injustice suffered by the victims and their families.

From the perspective of history, when a conflict between a government and its people ends in bloodshed, it is the government that must take principal responsibility

From the perspective of history, when a conflict between a government and its people ends in bloodshed, it is the government that must take principal responsibility, for it is the government that wields the power of the state. A government’s existence depends on the people’s trust. When a government turns its weaponry against the people, it has not only just injured the people, the bond of trust between the people and the government is also harmed. It takes a long time for courage, maximum patience, and forbearance to repair and rebuild trust.

We firmly believe that after successful economic growth, it is time to undertake political reform in China. We wholeheartedly hope the Chinese authorities will have the courage to promote the development of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. By doing so, we believe that this would be conducive to improving China’s international image and promoting its soft power. It would also help foster greater trust among the people of China in their governing authorities. What is more, it would convince people throughout the world that the rise of China contributes not only to the cause of peace, but is also a positive development from the standpoint of the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

On the 30th tragic anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, Chinese leaders must seize this excellent window of opportunity and create a new era for human rights. The Chinese authorities must act to broaden their minds to tolerate dissident views. As we mark this historic anniversary, we hope President Xi Jinping will distinguish himself from leaders of the past. He must act now for a renaissance in China, and the realization of the China dream.

Kent Wang

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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