Bipartisan support amassed on the capital lawn on June 4, 2019, in a rally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, organized by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Survivors of the 1989 protest, activists, and members of Congress joined forces to pay tribute to those who died in the fight for democracy in China, and to call the United States into action. The message of the event was clear: despite increasing economic liberalization, China’s oppressive regime shows no signs of slowing its authoritarian tactics.
The Communism Memorial Foundation awarded its annual Reagan-Truman Medal of Freedom to the Tiananmen Mothers, a democracy activist group comprised of friends and families of 125 of the students killed in the protests, dedicated to spreading the truth about June 4 and dispelling the government’s false narratives. The Tiananmen Mothers were unable to travel to the United States, so Mi Ling Tsui, the communications director for Human Rights in China, accepted the award.
Tsui called for justice for those killed in the June 4 massacre and honored the work done by the Tiananmen Mothers. “They have refused to accept a state-enforced amnesia,” Tsui said, “to document the dead, to gather evidence of the crimes committed against unarmed civilians simply for exercising their fundamental rights to assemble, and to express their aspirations for a cleaner government and a better China.”
Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Jim McGovern (D-MA) spoke to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of “Tank Man,” the unknown protestor who bravely stood in front of a row of tanks that day. He is immortalized in a photo that serves as a rallying cry for defiance against tyranny, even as his fate is still unknown. Levin recalled his personal experiences at the protests, witnessing the bravery of the Chinese students and the bloody suppression by the government.
Since the protest, human rights in China have only regressed. Between one and three million Uighurs and Kazakhs toil in labor camps in China, where they and members of the Falun Gong are subjected to brutal executions via live organ-harvesting, for the profit of the government. Religious groups, from Uighur Muslims to Tibetan Buddhists to Christian groups, are being aggressively suppressed and persecuted, from forced apostasies to imprisonment.
The Chinese government uses technological advancements to increase scrutiny and surveillance on their citizens, from aggressive Internet censorship to mass surveillance of the citizenry through nearly 200 million security cameras, some of which include facial recognition software. The government imprisons activists and dissidents with alarming frequency, brutalizing the human rights of freedom of speech and assembly. Forced abortions, considered a crime against humanity in the Nuremberg Trials, have reached an unprecedented rate.
While the rest of the world takes time to remember the dead and their sacrifices, the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge the existence of the massacre 30 years ago. China’s human rights abuses show no signs of slowing down, even with the increased economic liberalization.
However, the rally carried through it a ray of hope. As many speakers noted, China’s hyper-aggressive suppression of dissidence is not a sign of the government’s strength, but of its fear. Such totalitarianism cannot last forever against cries for the inalienable rights and liberties that the Chinese people have too long been denied.
Smith said, “Someday, China will be free. And they will look back at the heroes of Tiananmen Square, and they will know why that freedom cost so much, but was well worth that price.”