Nineteen years ago today, China’s People’s Liberation Army slaughtered unarmed citizens in the streets of Beijing and in Tiananmen Square, the spiritual heart of China. The Communist Party since then has remained unapologetic even though almost everyone in China who lived through that time knows that the atrocity was wrong. “When will the national flag be lowered for our children?” asks Ding Zilin, whose son was cut down then.
China’s flag, while it remains red, will never be lowered for the victims of the massacre. The leaders of the Communist Party, always obsessed with their legitimacy, believe they will never have to admit error or say they’re sorry. They think their government can outlast those who remember Tiananmen. They say that no one died on June 4 or that only soldiers perished in the darkness. Chinese children are not taught about the event in their schools, and so many have not heard of the army’s indiscriminate killing as it marched from the outside of the capital to its center.
And why should we care? Chinese leaders, emboldened by our silence, think that time is on their side and that in a few short decades they will sit at the center of the international system in a century they possess. Unless we confront them, they will in time subvert our institutions and, when we are weak, demand we see things their way. They are already poisoning American society.
Now, China’s autocrats have succeeded in getting presidents and prime ministers to legitimize them by traveling to their capital for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. At a time when he should speak out, the leader of the world’s free states will instead go to participate in what Beijing sees as a display of submission. Worse, China’s supremos have already cited President Bush’s upcoming trip to China as America’s rejection of the regime’s critics.
If we believe in our values and wish to defend our society, then we must remember this day, the fourth of June, for as long as the Communist Party of China refuses to acknowledge the great crime it committed almost two decades ago. It’s not just about the fate of the great Chinese people; it’s about ours as well.