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Tiananmen will not be forgotten

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Kate Adie returned to China to assess what changes had taken place

By Kate Adie

Tourists flock in their hundreds of thousands to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.

They can marvel at history in the Forbidden City and gaze at modern China's fashionably dressed citizens dodging shoals of Mercedes.

What they will not see is any hint of the recent past in Tiananmen Square - there is nothing which commemorates the deaths of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in June 1989, the massacre which brought a brutal end to many weeks of demonstrations.

Twenty years later, we wanted to make a programme about what happened to those caught up in the events - the student leaders, the workers and those who were injured or knew someone who had died.

And because recent history has been re-written by the Chinese authorities, we anticipated problems.

We applied for the official "journalist visas", announced during last year's Olympic Games - offering greater openness and freedom for the foreign press.

Engaging ineptitude

Chen Yunfei paid a high price for protest

After months of waiting - and advice from Chinese journalists that hen's teeth might be more available - we entered the country on tourist visas.

Our first two days of filming involved uniformed policemen sticking their white-gloved hands in front of the lens, while their plainclothes counterparts attempted to tail us through heavy traffic in Chengdu - with engaging ineptitude.

At one point we were followed by five vehicles, all of which appeared to have no idea how to tail anyone - especially when we abandoned our driver and hopped on a bus.

At one point we made a detour to avoid leading them to an interviewee - who is known to the police for dissident views - and I ended up in an organic farm talking earnestly to a rather puzzled man about cabbages while the police officers bobbed up and down behind a field of flowering rapeseed.

It would all seem something of a cat and mouse game for us, except for the fact that the people we were intending to interview all suffer endless harassment and surveillance - and have done ever since 1989.

As we slipped our "tail" and organised a rendez-vous in safe and discreet locations, we became ever more aware of the mammoth security system which can be brought to bear on those whom the state designates "trouble-makers".

Security cameras

Tourists probably don't notice that Beijing boasts 280,000 security cameras; it is rumoured that the muscular lads who offer to be guides in Tiananmen Square, sell you postcards and ice-cream, are all members of the secret police.

Zhang Xianling
Zhang Xianling founded Tiananmen Mothers after losing her son

The people we spoke to frequently find police outside their flat, cameras trained on their front door and their phones tapped.

It is no wonder that they used their mobiles (several!) to arrange to meet us.

What is surprising - and impressive - is their determination to talk about what happened, bear witness to the massacre and explain why they continue to demand that the authorities admit what they did to their own people.

They talk of being spirited from their homes every time there is a "sensitive time" - such as Party congresses or the Olympics, and being taken hundreds of miles away so that journalists cannot find them.

Many have been imprisoned for speaking out, yet they will not give up and their determination is breath-taking.

There's Mrs Zhang, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group which supports those who lost their sons and daughters, killed by an army which was firing relentlessly all the way into the city.

Her son was shot - he had no idea what was happening when he went out "just to take some photographs".

She speaks with great dignity, one of the few voices among 1.3 billion who want the truth acknowledged - and who speak of their hopes for justice and more freedom.

Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square was on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesday 3 June 2009 and will be available for seven days at BBC iPlayer



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