Another June, another year without democracy

Today is the 21st anniversary of the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that ended in a violent military crackdown. In that extraordinary week where the world watched, the enduring image is of a single man who decided to act —to stand up for peace and risk everything for freedom. But the thousands of courageous people who sacrificed their lives must also be remembered.

Although China was not ready for democratic reform in 1989, today there are small reminders that the desire for democracy has not been suppressed or driven out. But advocates face harsh opposition and continued censorship.

Earlier this week a newspaper in Guangzhou published a cartoon alluding to the protests that was then swiftly removed. The families of those killed during the protests, known as the Tiananmen Mothers, are still demanding an open dialogue about what happened two decades ago. And in Hong Kong, activists were arrested for displaying a remembrance statue. This raises concerns as Hong Kong is a community that has openly commemorated the anniversary with an annual vigil.

It is June 4 again, and China still waits for democracy. Here is a poem by Bei Dao, a prominent figure in modernist Chinese fiction and an inspiration to the demonstrators:


Wind at the ear says June
June a blacklist I slipped
in time

note this way to say goodbye
the sighs within these words

note these annotations:
unending plastic flowers
on the dead left bank
the cement square extending
from writing to

I run from writing
as dawn is hammered out
a flag covers the sea

and loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s
deep bass say June

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