Something happened 25 years ago today. Something we should strive to remember as vividly as if it were happening right now. A bunch of college students occupied a public square to mourn the death of a reformer and protest against government corruption and for freedom of speech and other democratic reforms. They were joined by laborers and public intellectuals on the square. Eventually, the square swelled with their ranks, until they were a million strong. It seemed as though they might even succeed, as even some soldiers sent to disperse them declined to do so.
Everyone watching around the world was filled with hope and awe.
And then the government reacted. With troops and tanks from outside the region, soldiers who didn't know the citizens they were firing upon and crushing under their treads. Thousands died that day, tens of thousands more arrested. The world mourned and moved on. The government scrubbed the square clear of debris and bodies and blood, and removed all adverse references to it from its media. Even today, citizens cannot locate information on the massacre on government-censored search engines, and cannot discuss it directly even over social media without recourse to creative euphemisms. No commemorations can take place at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Today, much has changed. The country where these brave young people stood, spoke out and gave their lives is now an economic powerhouse, manufacturing half the world's goods and generating new billionaires every year. But the freedom those young people demanded is still not theirs, and many of those who were arrested are still detained, whether in a labor camp or under house arrest. Some who escaped are effectively living in exile. Some of those in prison undoubtedly have provided labor for manufacturing. Perhaps they even made a few products which found their way to American shelves. As they say at Walmart, "low prices, every day."
The government of that country has been so effective at suppressing the memory of that day that students at universities there, 85% of them, have no idea where the iconic image of a man standing in front of a column of tanks comes from. They guess South Korea or Kosovo. They do not even realize that it is from their own country's history!
We remember, though. We remember, mourn and celebrate the lives of those who gathered at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, 25 years ago.