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Legacies: Museum Exhibits

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 5 years, 10 months ago

Legacies of Tiananmen 1989: Museum Exhibits


I. October 1st, 2014 marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. The flag-raising ceremony (which happens daily at 4:00 AM and always draws a crowd) this year on Oct. 1 drew about 80,000 people to Tiananmen Square as the Chinese marked their National Day. The journalist Louisa Lim writes about the ceremony two years ago when she stood in the crowd.


My neighbors were exultant. "I'm so moved!" the school teacher enthused, beaming widely. Patriotism was beating in her heart, she said, for today she had finally achieved what she had been dreaming of for years. 


I couldn't help myself. I asked her whether she ever thought about the students and their supporters who camped out on this very spot a quarter-century ago, with their demands for cleaner government and greater democracy; or whether she even knew about the tanks and guns used against the unarmed bystanders in the approach to the square. Her face fell. I had cast a pall over the moment, behaving in the stereotypical way of the doubting Western media.


"This problem is quite sensitive," she replied hesitantly, "Let's not talk about it now. Let's live in today's world and not dwell on the past."

(Lim, The People's Republic of Amnesia, 3)


Not dwelling on the past is ensconced in China, a seemingly incongruous reality in such a historicistic culture. The events of the spring in 1989 and especially what transpired early in the morning on June 4 were supposed to herald in the words of the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, "the failure of the 'Technique of Forgetting History." Alas, "official history" as promulgated by the CCP has managed to cultivate a collective amnesia during the last quarter of a century. In the spring of 1999, a Chinese film professor noted,


"A massive secret has become a massive vacuum ... this secret is like a poison that has contaminated the air we breathe and our whole life and spirit." She observed that if things did not change by 2009, "June 4th will no longer be a crime committed by a small group of people, but one in which we all participated." (Ibid, 6)


II. Hong Kong: the Special Administrative Region held its own flag-raising ceremony to commemorate National Day. Note the absence of coverage of the protests for genuine electoral democracy taking place in Hong Kong, the result of changes in the electoral process for the 2017 election in Hong Kong laid out by Beijing and President Xi Jinping in late August of this year. The changes and the subsequent protests have limited Mr. Xi's options in response, though a likely outcome may well be the removal of Hong Kong's chief executive and Beijing ally, Leung Chun-Ying, who finds himself in a rather precarious situation.




Might one of the legacies of the Tiananmen Square protests 25 years ago be what we are witnessing today in Hong Kong? Historical analogies are always inexact, but once again we see students in the forefront as potential agents of change. While one larger question about Hong Kong's autonomy certainly exists, there also might be the potential for a global impact financially especially given Hong Kong's place as one of the preeminent business capitals of the world. If the demonstrations continue, could we looking at some form of "Tiananmen II?"


A recent NPR story provides some needed historical context of the present situation in Hong Kong. Victor Gao, former translator for Deng Xiaoping, offers what can be viewed as the Chinese government's perspective on the protests.


During the past week (Oct. 3-10), the protests have dwindled considerably even as the city government has not removed barricades on the streets. That said, the decision by the government to renege on talks with the protesters (perhaps the result of a growing frustration among the public with the demonstrators) has apparently fueled a new resolve among the students for further acts of civil disobedience.


During the past week (Oct. 10-17), there has been some violence towards the protesters as the authorities continue to remove barricades. On Oct. 16, the city government agreed to talks with the students but adamantly refused to consider concessions to Beijing's arrangement for the 2017 nomination process. Hong Kong's "culture of protest" is not a recent development, perhaps the product of its cosmopolitanism.


During the past week (Oct. 17-24), protests have continued as captured by Chinese National Television even as student leaders and government officials conducted negotiations. The outcome of the "talks" may have been that both sides agreed to disagree and no more. In addition, it would appear that the gap between the demonstrators and Hong Kong's business elite continues to widen. And, a number of Hong Kong pop culture celebrities who have supported the protests have begun to find themselves blacklisted on the mainland. That said, just yesterday (Oct. 23), the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong's city government (and by extension Beijing) not to impose any restrictions on who can run for office in 2017.


During the past week (Oct. 24-31), a number of revealing events transpired including:


During the past week (Oct. 31-Nov. 6):

  • The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) concluded that taking the students' grievances directly to Beijing would potentially yield better results than trying to impact Hong Kong's municipal administration. Not that Beijing would welcome pro-democracy advocates on the mainland especially during the ongoing Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and President Obama's forthcoming visit to China in a few days.
  • On October 31, Taiwan's president voiced support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong but cautioned against any violence by the protesters.
  • Chinese National television issued the results of a survey among residents in Hong Kong about the effects of the movement.
  • Anti-Japanese protests are being planned by Chinese activists as the APEC meetings began on the mainland. Two Hong Kong activists will be traveling to Beijing, but another, a pro-democracy supporter, was denied a travel visa.
  • Stanford University's political sociologist, Larry Diamond, discusses the future of the Hong Kong protests.


During the past week (Nov. 7-14):

  • An editorial piece in USA Today urged President Obama to be harsher and firmer with President Xi Jinping during the APEC forum especially when it comes to human rights issues. The author bemoaned the U.S. response to the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.
  • The 50 minute news conference with Presidents Xi and Obama, while highlighting a pathbreaking climate change agreement, also illustrated Mr. Xi's bluntness and Mr. Obama's circumspection. On the issue of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the Chinese leader simply stated that it was illegal. For his part, Mr. Obama allowed that it was a Chinese matter to resolve even if he intimated the importance of freedom of expression. 
  • And, tangentially related, there was a groundbreaking, if not cordial, handshake between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.


During the past week (Nov. 14-21):

  • Hong Kong authorities enforced a court injunction to remove barricades, which were disrupting traffic in two areas of the city. Protesters did not attempt to prevent such actions, which compromised only a small portion of the entire protest sites. Polls show declining support for the demonstrations, and it would appear that the government will continue to play the waiting game and not make any rash attempts that could result in violence. 
  • The pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" has created a substantial amount of public "political" art on the streets of Hong Kong. Protesters are scrambling to document this art digitally before the authorities clear the protest sites.


III. CALL class ideas for exhibits:


  • "Tank Man" (with a report on what has happened to Tank Man)
  • Diorama of the square
  • History of the square (before and after 1989, written and video with different interpretations of the events of 1989)
  • Comparisons with other city squares of similar significance (e.g. Cairo)
  • Protesters (photos of faces, biographies, their voices; material symbols: clothing, books, songs, poems, bullhorns, history of those not killed)
  • Time line and narrative posted on walls; film presentation of the narrative
  • Soldiers (photos of faces, biographies if possible)
  • News photos (students marching, being beaten; people on top of the monument; weapons used by the government and protesters)
  • Quotes from protesters; Party responses
  • News articles from the foreign press reacting to the events
  • Books, diaries, memoirs, films written/produced about what happened 
  • Thematic exploration: Goals of the protesters (change vs. order; new aspirations vs. old authority, pushing the limits)
  • Hong Kong protest videos and Hong Kong and Beijing government responses
  • Copy of Sino-British turnover agreement 
  • Long March symbols (photos of Chairman Mao)
  • Little Red Book 
  • Long wall with names of those that died
  • Dove flying over a tank as tribute to those that died or were injured
  • Chinese history textbooks 
  • Ai Wei Wei installations
  • Xu Bing's two Phoenixes 


Link to Tiananmen page


Link to News (RSS Feeds) and Sources


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