The Tiananmen Square protester using raw meat to send a message to China

Artist Guo Jian was detained in China over his controversial model of Tiananmen Square in 2014. Now in Australia, he is making another one to mark 30 years since the massacre.

Chinese Australian artist Guo Jian, who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, made headlines around the world in 2014 when he was arrested by Chinese authorities. 

He had made a diorama of Tiananmen Square covered in raw pork meat, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the event. 

After being detained for 15 days, interrogated, and banned from returning to China for five years, Guo told SBS News he will no longer be silenced. 

Guo Jian making a diorama of Tiananmen Square using raw pork mince in 2014.
Source: Supplied

"My art is my power, I can send a message to people through it and I want people to know I will never forget what happened at Tiananmen Square," the 57-year-old told SBS News. 

Guo, who lives on the NSW Central Coast, is now working on another larger version of the 2014 diorama to mark the 30th anniversary of the massacre. 

It will be ready for display in the coming months and he has chosen to not yet reveal where it will be exhibited. 

Guo Jian is remaking a diorama of a meat-covered Tiananmen Square.
Source: Gerard Phelan (SBS News)

He explained he is again using raw pork mince for a number of reasons. 

"Meat will rot. It can also be eaten," he said.

"Meat was very obvious at Tiananmen Square; tanks going over and people dying, all becoming meat, with lots of blood.

"Tiananmen has become a symbol of China’s power; no-one can touch it - but I wanted to make the diorama show that it will rot." 

Remembering 4 June 

Hundreds, if not thousands of people, are believed to have died in the bloody crackdown that began in the early hours of 4 June 1989, after weeks of student-led pro-reform protests in Beijing.  

Guo was studying at Minzu University in Beijing at the time and tells of his past hopes at the prospect of peaceful reform in China.

"I feel like between 1985-89, it was [the] most open period of time in Chinese history.  

"At the time, there was a strong feeling of wanting change."

He joined the hunger strike sit-in for seven-and-a-half days before being taken to hospital along with other students.

He says in the lead up to 4 June, there was a sense of excitement and optimism in the air. 

Guo Jian went on hunger strike at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Source: Supplied

Guo, himself a former soldier, says no-one really believed the Chinese army would start shooting. 

"We all thought that the situation was finished, meaning we had won," he said. 

"No one really believed that the soldiers would start firing, we thought they would carry the students away or at most hit them and pull them away.

"The way we were educated is that you protect Chinese people ... that’s why they are called the People’s Liberation Army." 

But on the morning of 4 June 1989, the soldiers and tanks moved in. Guo recalls that moment of realisation. 

"In the smoke and haze, we could see shadowy soldiers and tanks coming towards us ... that’s when I realised 'this is real'. I took my friend and we ran.

"We saw an alleyway and we noticed a hospital, when we got to the front we noticed that there was blood everywhere ... in the hospital, there was a lot of people - injured and dead."

Guo Jian is working on a new diorama of Tiananmen Square.
Source: Gerard Phelan (SBS News)

30 years on

Guo Jian moved to Australia in 1992 but says what happened to the student protesters in Tiananmen Square continues to haunt him.

"When I hear ambulance sound or sound of fireworks ... that sound takes me straight back, I would feel very anxious ... like the gunfire had started again, it hasn't left me ... it's still right here."

The event remains a taboo topic of discussion in China and will not be officially commemorated by the ruling Communist Party. China has never provided a final death toll.

It is the memory of Tiananmen Square that Guo wants to keep alive through his art. 

He is not without hope that justice may one day be served for those who were responsible.

"In the past we were too optimistic, I am very pessimistic now but I will not lose the hope." 

Published 3 June 2019 at 5:44pm, updated 4 June 2019 at 7:36am
By Lin Evlin