Tour This Olympic City
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The long awaited Beijing Olympic Games began Friday with an imposing display of choreographed performances, music, and fireworks. However, the sight of the American athletes marching into the stadium led by teammate Lopez Lomong, a refugee from the genocidal Sudanese regime that is supported by China, provided a reminder of the environment in which these games are taking place.
For all of President Bush’s insistence that he is attending the Games solely as a sports fan, Mr. Bush cannot escape their political significance. Nor can the rest of America. The Olympics invariably take on the character of their host country and the Games in Beijing are no exception. Take for example, the arrest of Hu Jia and other dissidents critical of the Games, repression of “petitioners” seeking redress from the government, and tougher restrictions on the Internet.
The spectacle of the opening ceremonies cannot obscure the uncomfortable truth that travelers to the Games are visiting a one-party communist dictatorship. Nor can the physical transformation of Beijing, a city that less than 20 years ago was the site of an appalling atrocity. In the spring of 1989, democracy protests began in Beijing and spread throughout China. Students were soon joined by Chinese citizens from all walks of life, including workers, journalists, civil servants, and members of the Communist Party. When the regime decided the threat was too great, it sent in the army on June 4, 1989. The number of dead is unknown; estimates range from several hundred to several thousand. The crackdown afterward swept up tens of thousands of innocent citizens.
Afterward, the regime denied its culpability, calling the demonstrators counterrevolutionary criminals. To speak about Tiananmen publicly inside China is to risk everything. Dr. Jiang Qisheng knew this, but he spoke out anyway, calling on his fellow citizens to honor the victims on the 15th anniversary of the massacre. He served four years in prison as a result. A journalist, Shi Tao, received a 10-year sentence for forwarding abroad a directive from the propaganda department instructing reporters not to write about the June 4 anniversary.
The most unrelenting critic of the regime over Tiananmen may be the mother of a 17-year-old killed on the night of June 3, 1989, Ding Zilin. A few years after the massacre, Ms. Ding and other relatives formed the Tiananmen Mothers. They provided the information about 188 victims that was used to create the map that accompanies this article.
I met Professor Ding on a visit to Beijing last summer. I hadn’t expected to be able to see her. The apartment where she lives with her husband, Jiang Peikun, is usually manned by security personnel who keep away foreign visitors and journalists. I asked her to show me where her son died on my tourist map. She drew a small circle around the Muxidi subway stop in western Beijing. Her son, Jiang Jielian, and others killed at Muxidi are listed on the map at location no. 10.
The regime denies the truth of what happened at Tiananmen. Fortunately, human beings are equipped with memory. Being remembered is a particularly human need. “I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger,” Mr. Berger, a Jew, wrote to a friend from Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, where he had fled from German invaders of Poland. He was shot in Vilna in July 1941.
To remember is also a human instinct, hence the Yad Vashem memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, the Omid database of victims of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the organization, Memorial, for victims of Soviet communism, and efforts to honor the victims and the events of the Cambodian, Rwandan, and Armenian genocides.
Partly inspired by the example of Gunter Demnig, an artist in Germany who installs plaques bearing the names of Holocaust victims outside the homes from which they were deported to concentration camps, this map is a small gesture to remember them and the many millions of victims of Chinese communism. Some day, Chinese citizens will not face imprisonment to remember and honor the victims of the Tiananmen massacre. Until then, it is a small thing for the rest of us to do what they cannot.
Ms. Bork works on China and human rights at Freedom House. The map was designed by Philip Chalk, design director at the Weekly Standard magazine. Tian Jian, who participated in the democracy protests of 1989, translated the information provided by the Tiananmen Mothers.