Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June 4, 1989

Beginning on April 15, 1989, groups of young people, many of whom university students, started gathering in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to protest against corruption, to demand more economic and political liberalization, and democracy. It was sparked by mourning over the death of HU Yaobang, former Communist Party Secretary, who was considered a reformer and was purged when his reforms for political liberation were considered to have gone too far. 

The protests were peaceful, and there was no violence. But the government considered the protests illegal, and Premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 20. The government demanded that the protesters leave the square, but the protesters persisted. The number of protesters fluctuated from day to day, and ranged from tens of thousands to a million. There was a genuine hope that China would become more liberalized because of this. 

Armies were sent into Beijing, and for a couple of weeks, there was a stalemate. In the evening of June 3, soldiers pushed into the Square to clear the square. Many people died in the confrontation, in or near the square during that night. Estimates of deaths ranged from hundreds to thousands. 

The protesters were widely supported in China, Hong Kong, and overseas. There were numerous demonstrations in many cities in support of the protesters, even before the massacre. And there were more afterwards. It was reported that a million people in Hong Kong went on the street to demonstrate against the massacre. We were living in Ottawa in Canada at the time. My wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Starting sometime in May, we went to the Chinese embassy every Sunday after church to show our support for the protesters in Tiananmen Square and for their demands. On the morning of June 4th, our church held a prayer meeting during our Sunday service for the victims of the massacre. We hurt so badly that many of us wept openly.  We then marched to the Chinese embassy. The hymns we sang all focused on God's love and mercy and justice. 

As human beings and as Christians, what is our position on this matter? From a narrow point of view, this is not a matter of faith. Some Christians and churches feel we should not be involved. From a broader perspective, it is a matter of human rights. As responsible citizens, it is our responsibility to take a stand against injustice. Even if we only consider it from a point of view of self-interest: If we do not speak up when others' human rights are violated, no one will be there when our own rights are violated. 

Ultimately, God loves justice and mercy, and hates evil. Throughout the Bible, God always stands on the side of the oppressed, and exhorts us to do likewise. The Bible does call on us to respect those in power. But God states clearly that we should obey God rather than men, when there is a conflict. Personally, I believe we should speak up for the oppressed, for the sufferers of injustice. We should love those whom God loves, and God certainly loves them as much as He loves us. Love should be manifested in deeds as much as in words. 

There has been a Candlelight Vigil in Hong Kong in memory of the massacre every year since 1989. Typically, videos of the protests and massacre will be shown, people involved with the protests will be interviewed, and songs in memory of the dead will be sung. The main themes are: freedom for the democracy activists, justice for the victims of the June 4 massacre, end of one-party rule, and democracy for China. I have been attending practically every year. Personally I am comfortable with almost all of the main themes. But each person should decide for himself. It is an open event, so anyone can come and go at any time as one pleases.  I urge you to go. 


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