A sombre silence hung over Tiananmen Square on the 19th anniversary of the brutal crushing of student protests. There was no official ceremony marking the occasion, the only visible state response was heightened security.
In June 1989 the square had been a rallying point for students leading pro-democracy protests. In front of a portrait of Chairman Mao they erected their own symbol of power – a statue dubbed ‘the Goddess of Democracy’.
Uncertain of how to respond, the authorities held back. But it was not to last. As the protest gathered momentum and world attention, the hardline reflexes of the Communist Party kicked in.
The tanks rolled in with devastating affect. Beijing officials put the death toll at around 200 but the real figure may never be known. The events of that day may remain taboo in China but have not faded from memory in the West.
Many feel China’s rulers still have questions to answer. “I am very concerned. When the Olympics start, and so many journalists who represent visitors and people in other countries turn up and they ask about the truth about Tiananmen Square, I don’t know what the autorities are going to say to them,” said a former senior Communist party official.
Despite Beijing’s better relations with the West the official line on Tiananmen Square appears not to have changed a lot in the intervening years.
A foreign ministry spokesman said: “We have a clear position on this political event that took place in the 1980s of the last century. The issues are related to our internal policies, they are domestic affairs.”
Relatives of those who died are determined to keep the bloodshed in Tiananmen on the agenda. Ding Zilin, who leads a mother’s support group, said: “I hope the international community will support and encourage the Chinese gouvernment to solve the issues linked to the June 4th massacre in a peaceful and fair way. The solution of these issues are highly related to the democratization process of my country, this concerns the future of our people.”
The Olympic torch remains a beacon of hope for many Chinese. They expect their leaders to deliver on the promises they made on human rights in order to win the right to stage the games.