Tiananmen and the power of freedom

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, we are calling for the Chinese Government to protect the universal human rights of its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.  

Over the years, Beijing has taken a two-pronged approach to the massacre. Domestically, the incident is ignored in history books, and discussion about it is totally prohibited to the point that many young people know nothing of what happened. In arguments directed to the international community, Beijing has said the crackdown was necessary to ensure social stability, which it says was a precondition for the market-driven changes that have since transformed China into the world's second-largest economy. 

ADVERTISEMENT
We remember June 4 incident in history, just as we remember unfortunate chapters in world's history. Pretending it never happened is not an option.  After three generations of leadership since the student protests, there are signs of the authorities loosening online censorship of related subjects, although direct mention of "June 4th" is still banned. The bloody incident is a tragedy and this painful chapter must be faced in Chinese history. We call upon Chinese leaders to learn a lesson from this historically significant human rights incident, and to ensure that it is never repeated. We also hope that they will take the steps necessary to redress the pain and injustice suffered by the victims and their families.  

From the perspective of history, when a conflict between government and its people ends in bloodshed, it is the government that must take principal responsibility, for it is the government that wields the power of the state. A government’s existence depends on the people's trust. When a government turns its weaponry against the people, it is not only just injured the people, the bond of trust between the people and the government is also harmed. It takes a long time through courage, maximum patience, and forbearance to repair and rebuild the trust.  

We firmly believe that after the successful economic growth, it is time to do political reform in China. We urgently hope the China authorities will have the courage to promote the development of freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law. By doing so, we believe that this would be conducive to improving the China's international image and promoting its soft power. It would also help foster greater trust among the people of China in their governing authorities. What is more, it would convince people throughout the world that the rise of China contributes not only to the cause of peace, but is also a positive development from the standpoint of the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights.  

As the June 4 date draws near, the China authorities must act to adopt a more open-minded, tolerant attitude towards dissidents in China and to improve the treatment of dissidents. China authorities definitely have the capability to narrow the gap in the protection of human rights across the Taiwan Strait. We wholeheartedly hope that China will open a new chapter in human rights protection under President Xi's new leadership. The journey begins, as the saying goes, with a single step. The first step toward political reform is treating dissidents with leniency, and appreciating their value to society. This again would greatly enhance the China's international image. And more importantly, it would also help reduce the psychological distance between the people on both sides of the Strait.  

On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, Chinese leaders must seize this excellent window of opportunity and create a new era for human rights. The Chinese authorities must act to broaden their minds to tolerate dissident views. As we approach this historic anniversary, we hope President Xi Jinping would distinguish himself from leaders of the past. He must act now for a "renaissance" in China, and the realization of the China dream.   

Wang is an advisory commissioner for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Council; Huang is emeritus professor at the City Colleges of Chicago; and  Wu is dean's adviser, School of International Service at American University.

More in Civil Rights

When corporate profit trumps human rights, we all lose

Read more »