The Great Amnesia in the Young Chinese Generation

After three decades there are not many people who feel free to talk about what happened in the main square of the Chinese capital of Beijing in 1989. In Tian An Men square, a great number of people protested during the morning in order to demand greater accountability from the Chinese government.

Some witnesses were there, such as Ma, there with his 6-year old son who has no memories of the massacre. Tanks soon appear in the square where more than 1000 people lost their lives. Ma continues saying ‘it was all too terrifying to be true’ who even brought his son to manifestations the following years but Ma doesn’t believe his son has any interest in politics. After all this time, close to the date of June 4th, the area around Tian An Men square uses surveillance cameras and security teams to keep check on the square night and day in order to avoid any possible reaction, even if years later most of the witnesses are no longer willing to speak out.

The younger generation instead prefers to leave this behind them, worried of the effect that any declaration, manifestation or protest would have on them- having seen the umbrella protest in Hong Kong a few years ago which ended with many people being imprisoned. Ma continues saying ‘I don’t think this topic will ever be forgotten’, he and his friends are still talking about it. The issue is that there is a gap between generations and the strong and strict surveillance from the government looks like it is working in keeping silence on the massacre.

Recently the ‘China Wall’ called after the wonder present in the far north of the country has increased the controls. Online on Wechat, the biggest social media in China all together with Qq every word connected to the 4th June is banned and the accounts are blocked and face several charges. So said, all has to be made unreal but it did happen.

A popular saying by a Shenzhen teacher says’ If you ask millennials, I can guarantee you 90% of them do not know’ and I myself can confirm this with sadness after spending two years in the country. Some Chinese dissidents have their mobile number’s ending in 8964, in rememberance of the date of the historical event, but still most young people are unaware of the efforts being made to try and remember it. Another young girl commented after a journey to Vietnam that she only realized what had happened following her trip to Hanoi when she was allowed to use YouTube for the first time in her life. When people asked her about her feelings she said ‘There was no way for me to know while in China, your family doesn’t tell you, your history teacher doesn’t tell you so there’s no way we’d know’.

Sarah Lin, a 21-year-old university student who decided to study in the United States, was willing to go to that trouble. She first learned about the crackdown from her aunt, who was a university student in Shanghai in 1989 and helped distribute fliers about the protest to try and raise awareness. Her aunt only spoke about it briefly and vaguely, but Lin looked it up herself later and found photos and testimony from people who survived the crackdown in Beijing. “I definitely felt very bad, not to mention there were some stupid comments saying they deserved this suppression,” she said. Lin said she had discussed it with her peers, but found they were not interested in revisiting that history. Some acknowledged nonchalantly that the crackdown had occurred, while others refused to believe what she said.

“They said, how do I know you’re telling me the truth, or whether these foreign journalists are telling the truth?” she said. Today, most people in Chinese Universities are trying to reach out and achieve greater prosperity in contrast with the ideological liberation of the 1980s. Many philosophers have tried to understand this and have developed many theories about it, but the main point is still that  people don’t realize that without the establishment of a constitutional democracy there’s no cage with which power can be contained. Without judicial independence, without civil society, without freedom of speech, there’s no way to gradually improve the quality of life and there will be no harmony amongst the people of China.