I Was There: Tiananmen Square Protests

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Thirty years ago, pro-democracy demonstrators descended on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Today, the impact of the bloody protests that left up to thousands dead is still felt in China and around the world.

Watch Wayne’s story above.

They said, “We are people’s government. Army is People’s Army.  People’s Army won’t shoot people.” And I believed them.
- Wayne Xia

In mid-April 1989, stirred by the death of pro-reform Communist leader Hu Yaobang, the people of China dared to dream of democracy. 

Student-led pro-democracy demonstrations sprung up in over 400 city squares across China; and by the first week of June, one-million demonstrators had descended on Tiananmen Square in the nation’s capital.

On the night on June 4, the movement came to a bloody, history-defining end when the People’s Army of China turned on the people of China.

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Wayne Xia was 24 at the time and living in Shanghai. After witnessing his country flex its authoritarian muscle, he fled to Australia where he found work and raised a family.

In the years since Wayne left Shanghai, turbo-charged quasi-capitalism has transformed the cityscape almost beyond recognition. But in Wayne’s opinion, this is a mirage of modernity only.  

“I think China is going backwards. If you want to express your political views, it’s really hard. Particularly since [President] Xi Jinping went into office. As they monitor the civilians they can control more, control tighter, not like they used to.”

China expert James Griffiths told Dateline, “Tiananmen woke the government up to the potential of the internet to be used in all social movements.”

To that end, US-based tech platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google among others are blocked by the so-called ‘Great Firewall’ of China. Their respective local alternatives WeChat, Weibo and Baidu are each bound by the Communist Party of China (CCP) to censor anti-government speech.

The CCP recently rolled out a pilot ‘social credit rating’. The system is powered by big data gathered from citizens and rewards or punishes citizens according to their ‘trustworthiness’. Chinese authorities claimed to have banned millions of citizens from boarding flights based on their ‘untrustworthy’ social credit ratings.

And just last month, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report revealed how Chinese authorities have developed a mobile app that enables police to pull data from China’s mass surveillance system – the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) – to help them build detailed personal profiles of ethnic minority groups. These groups are some of the most heavily persecuted in the country.