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'Tiananmen Mothers'

Yutong Su / gd June 3, 2013

China's new leadership has been in power for three months. Still, Beijing hasn't shown any inclination to shed light on the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Families of activists killed are increasingly disappointed.

Hu Jintao (L) shakes hands with China's newly elected President and chairman of the Central Military Commission Xi Jinping during the fourth plenary meeting of the first session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, March 14, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Image: Reuters

More than 100 people whose relatives died in the Tiananmen Square massacre have strongly criticized China's president Xi Jingping (main picture right). Just a few days ahead of the 24th anniversary of the June 4 protests, a group called the "Tiananmen Mothers" wrote in an open letter circulated by the US-based organization Human Rights in China: "Our hope is fading and despair is drawing near." The activists called upon the country's new leaders to re-examine the events that took place on that day.

In June 1989, thousands of young activists took to the streets demanding reforms. But the pro-democracy movement, labelled as "counter-revolutionary" by the government, came to a sudden and bloody end on June 4, when soldiers of People's Liberation Army opened fire at demonstrators. At least 2,400 protesters were killed, according to reports by several independent human rights organizations. The Chinese government puts the number of casualties at 241.

A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. The man, calling for an end to the recent violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. The Chinese government crushed a student-led demonstration for democratic reform and against government corruption, killing hundreds, or perhaps thousands of demonstrators in the strongest anti-government protest since the 1949 revolution. Ironically, the name Tiananmen means "Gate of Heavenly Peace". (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
Thousands were reportedly killed in the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989Image: AP

In response to US demands for a full accounting of the 1989 crackdown, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Beijing had already made "a clear conclusion concerning the political turmoil that happened in the late 1980s." Events commemorating the anniversary remain therefore banned and related search words are still being censored.

Lashing out at the government

Since 1995, the "Tiananmen Mothers" have addressed the Chinese state and party leadership as well as the National People's Congress a total of 36 times. In letters and petitions they have asked for compensation and a full disclosure of the events of June 4, but, so far, their requests have remained unanswered.

In their latest letter, the relatives of the Tiananmen victims lashed out at the government stating that China's top politicians "have never been real political reformers." In this regard, the 123 signatories proceeded to name not only former Chinese Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao (main picture left), but also the new man in power, Xi Jinping.

The activists wrote that Xi "has mixed together the things that were most unpopular and most in need of repudiation" during the time of former paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the latter who oversaw the suppression of the protests.

In a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party at the beginning of the year, Xi had hinted that the party wouldn't criticize any stage of its history.

No trips to Hong Kong

Meanwhile, police are keeping a close eye on the unruly activists. The married couple Wang Fandi und Zhang Xianling, who claims their 19-year-old daughter was shot dead during the protests, was banned from travelling to a music festival in Hong Kong a week ahead of the anniversary.

It has been reported that the government wants to prevent the couple from taking part in the annual protest rallies to mark the anniversary of the massacre. The territory of Hong Kong - returned by the British in 1997 - operates under a separate political system that promises freedom of speech and other Western-style civil liberties.

People hold up lit candles during a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park Monday, June 4, 2012 to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. (Photo: AP)
While protests in mainland China are off-limits, thousands gather every year in Hong Kong to mark the anniversaryImage: AP

Zhang Xianling, a spokeswoman for the "Tiananmen Mothers" told DW that police surveillance has decreased ever since the new government took office. However, she was also banned from travelling to Hong Kong. "Nothing's changed," said Zhang, adding that history repeats itself. "The new leadership is the same as the old one and doesn't want to uncover the truth about what happened in Tiananmen Square."

Zhang said she was disappointed by what she described as Xi Jinping's unkept promises of a new beginning. "A lack of courage or openness is standing in Xi's way and keeping him from jumping at the chance. There isn't even a gesture of reconciliation," she said.