Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, known in China as The June Fourth Incident. Following seven weeks of protests by Chinese citizens in Beijing who opposed the authoritarian rule of their government, the Chinese Liberation Army rolled in to Tiananmen Square with tanks and armed soldiers and began an assault on the protestors. The complete death toll is unknown. The Chinese government claims only 241 people, including soldiers, were killed; however the Red Cross estimates a number closer to 2,600. While some media coverage of the protests were initially allowed, all Chinese and international media outlets were eventually required to terminate broadcasts from the city and the government shut down satellite transmissions effectively ending most coverage of the event. Once it ended, the Chinese government controlled all press reports of the event, refused to allow international observers to investigate, and began massive arrests of those involved or sympathetic to the protestors’ cause.
As Americans, we take for granted our First Amendment rights, especially the freedom of press. In this country, the media is free to report on any story it pleases, whether our government officials agree with it or not. The thought of cutting off all access to our press during a national crisis is almost unimaginable to most Americans.
Although China has made significant economic progress since the Tiananmen Square Massacre, including adopting a more pro-market approach and allowing more international trade, their journey as a country is not yet complete. Rather than learning from the mistakes of the past and embracing the notion of human rights, the Chinese government shut down many internet blogging and communication websites, such as Twitter, and barred foreign journalists from Tiananmen Square leading up to this anniversary.
I hope that, while it is important to remember those who fell on this tragic day 20 years ago, Americans also use this day to be mindful of all the freedoms we are granted in this country. America truly is a unique nation, where the government really is of the people, by the people, and for the people. And for that, I am thankful.