Congressman Recalls Witnessing Violent Chinese Protests at Tiananmen Square Anniversary Rally

By Published on June 5, 2019

A freshman congressman who was in China in 1989 discussed the deadly protests he witnessed in China at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“We make a huge mistake 30 years later to call this situation the Tiananmen massacre when it was a systematic, national crackdown against democracy by the Chinese government,” said Democratic Michigan Rep. Andy Levin at a rally commemorating its 30th anniversary in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

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He talked about his involvement in protests in another region of China at the same time as the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and related the issue to a Jewish phrase he likes to share.

“You don’t have to complete the task but you must work on to fight against injustice,” Levin told the crowd.

Levin observed and wrote about pro-democracy protests in Chengdu, China, that ended with at least three deaths at the hands of the government in 1989. The rookie congressman was a 28-year-old grad student conducting research in Hong Kong and Chengdu at the same time as Beijing’s Tiananmen Square demonstration more than 1,000 miles away.

Bearing Witness

Levin did not know how valuable the notes he took on the protests would turn out to be. When the gathering in Chengdu turned deadly, he was there to record what he saw and share it with American media.

“I spoke to so many people — students, professors, unemployed young people — who were upset about corruption in their government, who were sure that their moment had come,” Levin said. He went on:

Then I watched horrified on the night of June 4 as the Chinese authorities cracked down. There were two days of running battles for control of the streets at the center of Chengdu. I saw too many people beaten and killed. Then I saw people taken away like so many sacks of potatoes with their hands tied behind their backs, thrown onto trucks never to be seen again.

Now, Levin serves on the House’s Asia and the Pacific subcommittee after a varied career that includes detailing human rights conditions in Tibet and Haiti in the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively.

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Republican New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also spoke at Tuesday’s rally. Smith is a member of the relatively new Victims of Communism caucus. Pelosi helped unveil a statue of the famous “Tank Man,” who confronted communism on the day after the massacre, at the rally.

The rally’s primary host was the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Co-host organizations included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Uyghur Human Rights Project. The Uyghurs, also spelled Uighurs, are a Muslim people group who have been placed in mass internment camps in China.

The lawmakers invoked China’s modern human rights abuses including the Uyghurs’ plight, forced abortions and suppressed speech. The tough talk about China comes as President Donald Trump continues waging a trade war against the communist regime.

What Happened In 1989?

As many as one million people gathered in Tiananmen Square, a public space in China’s capital, in the spring and summer of 1980, according to BBC. On June 3, 1989, the Chinese military mobilized. Tourists fought back with their bare hands and even hurled Molotov cocktails at armored vehicles, but the protest was crushed by the next day, according to BBC.

Thirty years later, no one knows the final death toll after tanks and soldiers descended on protesters on June 4, 1989. The dark day is remembered around the world as a turning point for the worse in the course of Chinese history.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for China to acknowledge the massacre in a statement Monday.

“We urge the Chinese government to make a full, public accounting of those killed or missing to give comfort to the many victims of this dark chapter of history,” Pompeo said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government actively erases any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre using algorithms and human editors. Commemorating the anniversary — even by reposting a photo on social media — can result in detention, reported BBC.


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