Monday, June 1, 2009

Do You Remember Tiananmen?

Do You Remember Tiananmen?

On a trip to Atlanta in July 2000, GG's editor met a woman who served several years hard labor in a Chinese prison for being near the square during the massacre of students & sympathizers that began on June 3 & continued into the 4th. (She was released about 28 months before we met her at a private dinner party; it had nothing to do with her being Chinese.) Her parents were also arrested; cruelly, they were kept in prison for nearly 3 more years than their daughter. The very week we met, her parents were released & moved to Australia. We asked her if Amnesty International made any difference to prisoners in China. We were wondering if we could tell anyone, from someone who would know, that it really did help--those letters, the campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience. Was it worth it? Did it only make those of us on the outside feel better? Did the prisoners know that people were trying to help them?

Her immediate answer: yes yes yes! (She actually said, "with an exclamation point.") She did not receive a letter or card, but she knew those who did. Those notes that slipped in--via sympathetic prison guards--were passed from person to person as a valuable commodity, not a tattered piece of paper. Many came from Amnesty members & groups & say You Are Not Alone. Currently GG's editor's local group is working on a Chinese prisoner case & two prisoners of conscience in Indonesia, as well as sponsoring the Human Rights Painting Project. One of our members is painter Tom Block & it is his project. More on that soon, but please do visit.

When we feel like we cannot stand one more minute of any of this, we remember this courageous & lovely woman who somehow survived--certainly with physical & emotional scars--moved to America, & had already completed an MBA (& had a baby!) by the time we met her. We hope she & her darling little girl, who would be 11-1/2 years old now, are very well & happy.

Here is a fantastic link to FRONTLINE: Do You Remember Tiananmen? It has a time-line, photographs, analysis, videos (which, alas, we cannot watch due to dial-up), & addresses the iconic photograph of the end of that spring in Tiananmen. What became of The Tank Man?

In a packed week that includes a crucial public speech by President Obama in Cairo & the 65th anniversary of D-Day, we cannot look away. China is involved in everything we work on; infuriatingly, the government interferes with people outside its borders, too. As the Chinese government has a problem with so many of us, please understand that sites even as innocent as this one get spammed mightily at times. Therefore, we are publishing this on Monday & not the 4th, which has become the traditional date of memorial. The timeline in the link makes clear that everything certainly did not happen on the 4th of June--but the worst did. Memory refreshment is always a good thing & we certainly forgot quite a bit. We encourage you to visit the site & to visit Amnesty International to see what you might do in a few moments to make a difference.

SPECIAL REQUEST: Please do not forget Aung San Suu Kyi. Her situation becomes more bizarre by the hour & we're terrified that she will be sentenced to serve not only more years, but inside the prison. She has fallen ill & how she can survive that, we don't know. We don't think she can. More on that soon. But if you've a moment, please visit the US Campaign for Burma in the right sidebar. Thanks.

Re: the photographs in the collage: LIFE archives, Mark Avery. These are the most violent images on Giulia Geranium. We are sorry but it is necessary. The 1946 shot of Tianamen Square, in what was then called 'Peking', is by Dmitri Kessel & is also from the LIFE archives.