It’s been 15 years since the Chinese Army moved into Tiananmen Square in Beijing and massacred hundreds and possibly thousands of their fellow citizens who peacefully gathered demonstrating for democracy.
I was a high school junior at the time, and had recently taken the Advanced Placement U.S. History test. I was reaching the age when I actually watched the nightly newscasts with my father. I had watched in wonder as the Soviet Union collapsed, not with a bang, but with a whimper. I remember watching CNN as the Berlin Wall came down.
As the protests in China grew. As more and more Chinese patriots gathered to rally for democracy, I was excited and hopeful. Communism is evil, and I hoped and longed to see 1 billion people freed from its yoke.
And then the tanks came.
I watched in wonder as that lone man with the briefcase stood before that line of tanks — and they stopped. A 150-pound man was an impenetrable barrier to a 20-ton tank.
I was heartbroken by the mass murder — aired on TV for all the world to see — of the despotic Chinese regime. A government that so fears its own people should not stand.
A few weeks later I was in Washington, D.C. for the Fourth of July parade with my family. I spent some meager portion of my trip money to buy a T-shirt from a group of Chinese college students at a corner. It was a red shirt bearing the image of Communist Party boss Deng Xiaoping who had ordered the massacre. “Wanted! For crimes against humanity,” the shirt proclaimed.
Fifteen years later, anger at what occurred that June night in Tiananmen Square has given way to sadness. The youthful idealism that was fostered by the collapse of European communism has been tempered by the realization that it is a rare and noble thing when someone gives up great power without a fight.
I don’t know what China’s future holds. The rollback of freedoms in Hong Kong, the threats directed at Taiwan, and the continued jailings of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and others who speak out for change lead me to believe that freedom and democracy are still, sadly, a long ways off in China.
I’m hoping that on this occasion, I’m wrong. People everywhere deserve freedom. Faster, please.