A selection of photos from April to June 1989 presented in the order of events.
Images by Edward Nachtrieb
JUNE 4, 2014: 25 YEARS AGO TODAY...
Twenty five years..and counting. In the five years since I posted these images it appears the Chinese government is still working from the same playbook even as the stakes for itself, and the world, grow higher. It’s amazing to me that their consistent effort to rewrite history has yet to lead to discernible negative consequences. I recall a Chinese saying - “A lie a thousand times is the truth.” This seems to be the basis of a strategy of making outrageous, and obviously false, claims. Say the Spratly Islands have always been part of China and pretty soon even you believe it. Erase any hints of a “Tiananmen massacre” and pretty soon no one has ever heard of it. Even though this approach appears to be effective, nationalistic self delusion has a history of leading to poor outcomes. Eventually reality trumps the myth making. Under the surface in China the heat is rising. News items about high wealth concentrations, pollution, corruption, housing speculation and restive ethnic minorities hint at some of the forces stoking the fires. I’m not sure when the bubble will pop and what form the release of pent up energy will take... but it is coming.
JUNE 3, 2009: 20 YEAR AGO TODAY...
Twenty years ago I was lugging around a camera bag in Beijing charged with what I viewed to be a sacred duty -- show the truth. The Chinese unrest taking place in 1989 was beyond any individual's ability to grasp at that time and yet there we all were, trying to figure out, describe and report on the thousands of people who suddenly took over the streets in a spasm of passionate desire for, dare I say it, "change."
Well, we all know what happened next. The words “Tiananmen Square” remind us of the violent events there. In the years since, China has gone into economic overdrive and is poised to exert ever growing influence on the world stage. At the same time, its strategy for dealing with its own history and the nature of “truth” itself is stuck in an old fashioned communist time warp. It’s a kind of Soviet model where people out of favor disappear from pictures and all other forms of the official record. Under this system, the events of Tiananmen Square on June 4 1989 have been erased. To people under 25 years old, there is no knowledge, or myth that even refers to what happened. To me, this seems like a dangerous strategy on the part of the Chinese Government. Such an omission is a form of lying and, over time, corrosive. They would serve themselves, their people, and the world at large much better by inviting the truth back to the table. Allow historians and others a forum to discuss and debate past events and their meaning as we move forward. I believe this strategy would make for a stronger China and one that would be less likely to resort to violence to solve problems in both its internal, and external affairs. Whether it’s modernization, Tibet, Taiwan, islands in the South China sea or earthquake response, more open, and truthful discussions will promote better solutions and strategies.
-Ed Nachtrieb June 3, 2009