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Page last updated at 17:40 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 18:40 UK

China's Tiananmen generation speaks

China drew worldwide condemnation for brutally quashing a student uprising in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. But in the months and years that followed, the incident has remained largely unmentioned inside China, at least in public.

Here people born in the years around the crackdown talk frankly about their knowledge of the event and how they were taught about it.

BeijingShanghaiZhejiangJiangxiSichuanShanghaiBeijingStudent protest in Tiananmen Square

CHEN SAN, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, SICHUAN PROVINCE

Two injured during the clash between the army and students 04 June 1989 near Tiananmen Square are carried out by a cart.  4 June 1989
The crackdown followed weeks of protests in Tiananmen square

Last year during the Beijing Olympic Games, the government stopped blocking foreign news websites. I read reports about the Tiananmen massacre on foreign websites.

My classmate also taught me about how to use proxy servers to access websites that were banned in China. I was able to read a lot of things which were not reported by state media.

After the death of former party leader Hu Yaobang, [a reformist leader who died in April 1989] students held mourning events which gradually turned into an anti-corruption movement. They also demanded freedom of press.

When I saw video footage of the killings, I was devastated. I confronted my mother: "Why didn't you tell me about this before?"

After the former leader Zhao Ziyang stepped down, hardliners within the Party clamped down on the protesters in Tiananmen Square. A lot of people were killed and injured.

Our textbooks do not include topics like this. We know nothing about that part of history. We don't even know that Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were leaders of our country.

I was angry and upset [to find this out]. When I saw video footage of the killings, I was devastated. I confronted my mother: "Why didn't you tell me about this before?"

She replied that she knew about the killing of students and ordinary citizens from listening to foreign and Hong Kong radio stations but that she thought that she shouldn't talk about such things with me.

I support the students. But today, China's priority is to develop the economy. Everyone wants to make more money. No one cares about politics any more.

I think the government should tell the truth. Hiding the truth wouldn't solve problems. By telling the truth, those who were killed in the massacre would finally rest in peace.

This is an edited excerpt of an interview conducted by BBC Chinese Online.

HUI FENG, 19, STUDENT, BEIJING

When the tank troops came...my father could not control himself but to hurl a brick at a soldier

I was born in early January 1990. My family lived in the main street of Xuanwu district, quite near to Tiananmen Square.

My parents were in their mid-twenties and had just graduated from college in 1989. My mother was too sick to take part in the movement. In fact, as she told me a few weeks ago, she really wanted to participate in it, or at least to join the mass and see what was happening.

When the tank troops managed to come into the centre of the city and through our street, my father could not control himself and hurled a brick at a soldier although he missed the target. That worried my mother for years, for fear of my father going into prison.

My mother's classmate's little brother, who was a high school student, was imprisoned for one year for playing with a helmet on the ground left by a passing soldier who had also been attacked by the angry, fanatical mass.

h people and dissident students.
Troops forcibly ended the student protests on 4 June 1989

I got the information above from the fragments in my parents' conversation about the subject, which still remains a taboo in mainland China.

They cannot help saying something relevant to it every now and then when talking about politics, which is an extremely common topic for the daily conversation of citizens in Beijing.

Today I still have no access to read words written in Chinese mentioning 4 June on the internet.

When I was in junior school, a politics teacher said that one of her classmates at university was the first one to be shot in the Tiananmen Square movement.

She didn't say anything more about it, nor did we students ask her. When asked, the most popular history teacher refused to say anything about the movement.

In 2006, Wikipedia was first suspended in mainland China. When it was reopened, I found I could not get any data if I entered the Chinese phrase 'Tiananmen Square'. Today I still have no access to read words written in Chinese mentioning 4 June on the internet.

Once I sent an email that contained the words "June 4th" in Chinese to my friend, and the whole email was returned by the website administrator. But after removing the date, the email was successfully delivered.

CHEN, BEIJING, 27

When I was growing up and in school, only a few classmates and a history teacher ever mentioned the events to me

I'm not afraid of telling the truth. I'm not afraid of anything.

That was quite a sensitive day. I remember it. My home was not far from Chang'an avenue where the tanks were driven through.

On that day you heard alarms everywhere [and] saw police cars, ambulances. I don't know what happened but I heard gunshots.

Every 4 June since then, police are everywhere.

What happened wasn't part of our school lectures for sure. It wasn't in any history books. People say different things; some say it was cruel because tanks ran over bodies, others say they probably only shot a few students.

To my knowledge, not many people died.

To be honest I didn't even know that the rest of the world had a big interest in what happened in 1989. I was surprised when I found out that other people were interested.

For my generation, it's not a big issue at all. I didn't understand what was really going on.

But I want the outside world to know China and I don't want to hide anything.

WANG, CLERICAL ASSISTANT, JIANGXI PROVINCE

I grew up in Pingxiang, a western city of Jiangxi province. There was almost nothing about the Tiananmen events in textbooks for my generation.

As far as I'm concerned, people who know each other always talk about it in private, especially when they need something to talk about after dinner.

This file photo taken on June 2, 1989 shows hundreds of thousands of Chinese gathering around a 10-metre replica of the Statue of Liberty (C), called the Goddess of Democracy, in Tiananmen Square
Many Chinese gathered in Tiananmen Square as part of a protest movement

In my opinion, normal Chinese people are not interested in politics very much. History has almost nothing to do with their real life.

When I was growing up and in school, only a few classmates and a history teacher ever mentioned the events to me, but I don't think they told me things as they happened because I didn't really know what happened at the time.

The other day a news column on this issue reminded me that I had so little idea about these events so I tried to get some facts by searching on the internet.

But to my surprise, my search of terms such as '1989 Tiananmen events' were not allowed according to "the law" - but the message didn't tell me which law.

Fortunately, I found another way of accessing the issue. But no matter what the facts are, the Chinese can understand well. The authorities should really trust in the judgement of its people and allow the smooth spread of information.

I would like to say that we Chinese are stronger than you thought.

NICHOLAS, 23, STUDENT, JIANGXI PROVINCE

I was born in 1986 and I hadn't heard about this event until I went to university. I downloaded a film about the Tiananmen events of 1989, which made me interested in what happened - and very angry.

I believe people died, but I don't think that the government killed hundreds of protesters. Both the Chinese government and Western countries don't have enough evidence to support their claims.

To this day, the Chinese government still doesn't want people to know about this event and continues to deny involvement in the killings.

I love my country, but I really want know the truth about what happened in 1989. I believe my government should say something to their people about this event, but I don't know how long we have to wait.

OWEN CHONG, 24, TEACHER, ZHEJIANG PROVINCE

As far as I know, the protests were peaceful at the very beginning. But then different kinds of people mixed into the group. Among them were some gangsters and people who were incited by anti-Chinese forces abroad.

An armoured personnel carrier is in flames as students put in on fire 04 June 1998 near Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

They set fire to buildings and cars, some of them even took guns from the Liberation Army soldiers and burned some soldiers to death.

In order to maintain the social security and stability, the Chinese government sent troops and suppressed the riots.

Without the crackdown, China would be torn apart and we could not enjoy the happy life we are having now.

Of course, we need democracy. But I don't think protesting, chanting slogans and punching the air with fists is the best way to bring about democracy. We are such a huge country, we should attain the goal step by step.

I am very happy to see we are changing and moving closer to it, and I am confident that we could enjoy more political rights in the future.

ZHAO BEILU, 25, SHANGHAI

It's been 20 years since the 4 June demonstration occurred in Tiananmen Square. For many years, the Communist Party has kept it as obscure an event as possible, away from most of the Chinese people, especially those who were born after the 1980s.

In my opinion, the crackdown on the movement in some way harmed the development of democracy in China

Still its consequences had a great influence on Chinese society with all the changes it made, including those of politics, economy, and ideology.

The party generally defined the protest as an anti-party and anti-socialism movement that was incited by people who had ulterior goals to overthrow the ruling Communist Party and the government. But most experts regard it as a pro-democracy protest led by students which in the end resulted in the power shuffling of the Communist Party.

In my opinion, the crackdown on the movement in some way harmed the development of democracy in China and resulted in a tighter ideological control of the people.

But history also witnessed the unprecedented economic rise of the country by following the policy made by Deng Xiaoping and his political protégés.

We can say that China's ever-rising power has now benefited from a relatively stable political atmosphere.

Some names have been changed to protect identities.



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