Tight security on Tuesday appeared to prevent any planned protests on Tiananmen Square on the 24th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown on protesters who had camped out for weeks on Tiananmen Square.
The crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989, killed hundreds, possibly more.
The Chinese government has never fully disclosed what happened on that day and branded the protests a “counterrevolutionary riot.”
It remains a taboo topic inside the country, and an event that is not allowed to be publicly discussed.
The event has left deep, emotional scars on some of those involved in the crackdown. Chen Guang, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier, who was deployed to the vicinity of the square to help clear out the protesters.
Chen said that the crackdown forever changed his perspective
He was a 16-year-old soldier when his unit was sent to the Great Hall of the People to deliver ammunition and was later mobilised in a nighttime face-off with protesters on the steps of the Stalinist-era building fronting the square.
Like many other troops around him, he said, he fired his gun at the sky but not at students. Chen could hear gunfire from all around the square as other troops moved in to crush the demonstrations.
Chen quit the army and became a painter, and is dealing with his memories of the event by painting about the incident.
He says the paintings depicting soldiers in the square, flames burning in the square, and amputated bodies are his medium to channel the painful memories of June 4th.
“This type of paintings cannot be exhibited in China, or Beijing. But, I still paint these because this is how I deal with my own personal issues with June 4th. For more than 20 years I have tried to deal with them. This is why I paint,” he said.
He recalls on the night of June 3rd to June 4th, that he stood at the entrance of the Great Hall of the People, holding guns, facing the students, and his heart was filled with “deep terror”.
Chen left the army to pursue art, and has since painted a number of pieces depicting the aftermath of the crackdown as a way of remembering the event.
“For my generation June 4th was a very powerful event. It marked a before and after, we cannot forget that,” he added.
In the morning as he and other troops cleaned the square of the students’ belongings, some of them burned in large bonfires. He says he still wonders about the protesters.
The artist said he hoped the government would allow an uncensored discussion of the event to learn from its mistakes, but he is not sure whether the new leadership is ready to do that.
“I think things have not changed currently, things are still quite tense (around June 4th crackdown). The more time passes, the more difficult it becomes for the government to find a way to hold itself accountable for this issue.”
Last week, the U.S. State Department called on the Chinese government to fully account for those killed, detained or missing in the 1989 crackdown and to end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.
All tourists, the vast majority of them Chinese, had to go through a security check to enter Tiananmen square on Tuesday.
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