Why we remember June Fourth

Source: China File (5/28/19)
Why We Remember June Fourth
By Perry Link

A student pro-democracy protester flashes a victory sign to the crowd as People’s Liberation Army troops withdraw on the west side of the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 3, 1989. Mark Avery—AP Photo

Some people recently asked, “Why must you remember June Fourth? Thirty years have gone by. It is history. Get over it. Move on.”

A simple question, but there are many answers. No single answer is adequate, and all of the answers together still leave the question hanging in mid-air, asking for more.

We remember June Fourth because Jiang Jielan was 17 at the time. He is still 17. He will always be 17. People who die do not age.

We remember June Fourth because the lost souls that haunted Liu Xiaobo until he died will haunt us, too, until we do.

We remember June Fourth because the glint of bonfires on bayonets is something one does not forget, even if one did not see it personally.

We remember June Fourth because it taught us the essential nature of the Communist Party of China when all of the clothes, every shred, falls away. No book, film, or museum could be clearer.

We remember June Fourth because of the ordinary workers who died then. We cannot remember most of their names because we do not know most of their names. We never did. But we remember them as people, and we remember that we never knew their names.

We remember June Fourth because the worst of China is there—but the best of China is there, too.

We remember June Fourth because it was a massacre—not just a crackdown, or an “incident,” an event, a shijian, a fengbo; not a counterrevolutionary riot, not a faint memory, and not, as a child in China might think today, a blank. It was a massacre.

We remember June Fourth because, as Fang Lizhi noted with his characteristic wit, it is the only case he has heard of in which a nation invaded itself.

We remember June Fourth because Xi Jinping’s fat smile is a mask.

We remember June Fourth because we want to know what the soldiers who did the killing remember. They were brainwashed on the outskirts of the city before they carried out their deadly orders. So they were victims, too. We do not know what their thoughts were. But we remember that we want to know.

We remember June Fourth because Ding Zilin is still alive. She is 82 years old. When she goes out, plainclothes police follow to provide security. Security for her? No, security for the state. That’s right, a regime with 100 trillion yuan in GDP and two million soldiers needs protection from an 82-year-old lady. Protection from her ideas. This is worth remembering.

We remember June Fourth in order to support others who remember. We remember alone. But we remember together, too.

We remember June Fourth because remembering it makes us better people. Remembering is in our personal interests. When politicians talk about “interests,” they mean material interests. But moral interests are just as important—no, they are more important. More important than owning a yacht.

We remember June Fourth because it was an historic turning point for one-fifth of the world. A turning point in a frightening direction. We hope it won’t be so much of a turning point as to throw the whole world into a ditch. But we don’t know. We’ll have to see.

We remember June Fourth because, if we didn’t remember it, it could not be in our heads any other way. Could we possibly have imagined it? No.

We remember June Fourth because there are people who dearly want us to remember. It comforts them to know that we remember.

We remember June Fourth because there are also people who desperately want us not to remember. They want us to forget because forgetting helps to preserve their political power. How foul! We would oppose that power even if remembering massacres were the only way to do it.

We remember June Fourth in order to remind ourselves of the way the Chinese government lies to itself and to others. It says the Chinese people have long since made their “correct judgment on the 1989 counterrevolutionary riot at Tiananmen Square.” But each year, at June Fourth, plainclothes police block people from entering the Square. Why? If the Chinese people all believe what the government says they believe, then why not let them into the square to denounce the counterrevolutionaries? The presence of the police shows that the regime does not believe its own lies.

We remember June Fourth because regime change would be very good for China. People are afraid of the two words “regime change” because of George Bush’s disastrous miscalculation in Iraq. But we should not blame the words themselves for Bush’s mistake. Liu Xiaobo used the words. Peaceful attainment of regime change was his main goal.

We remember June Fourth because shocks to the human brain last a long time. We would not be able to forget even if we tried.

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