In the spring of 1989, millions of Chinese peacefully seized control of their own capital and demanded democracy. After then-Premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 19th, the people of Beijing, not just students, responded by setting up bus and truck barricades to protect the demonstrators’ command post in Tiananmen Square. But on the morning of June 4th, 20 years ago today, China’s rulers sent in tanks and soldiers to regain control. The Chinese government claims only 241 people died that day, but the Chinese Red Cross puts the number at 2,600.
The leader of all those students was a softspoken 20 year-old Peking University student named Wang Dan. As a result of those heroics he was declared the #1 enemy of the Chinese government, a feat Senator Sam Brownback lauded as “quite an honor and distinction” when introducing him at a Heritage Foundation event on June 1st.
Today, he’s an outspoken critic of the Chinese government armed with a doctorate in East Asian History from Harvard and a cult-hero reputation among millions of Chinese who follow him on the internet – when his blog isn’t being blocked by Chinese authorities.
“There are two China’s now. One China is reality-which is totally controlled by the Communist Party. But there’s another China, a China based on the internet. That area I don’t see the government being able to control. That’s the base of the new social forces,” he said. “That’s the hope for the civil society and the civil society is the hope for democracy.”
The internet is one of the keys to unlocking liberty in China. The other is pressure from the world community, in particular the United States.