Generation Amnesia: why China’s youth don’t talk about Tiananmen


  • Three decades have passed since the Tiananmen Square crackdown when troops fired on student-led pro-democracy protesters.
  • The shots were heard around the country and reverberate today despite persistent official censorship of the event.

In the fourth in a six-part series, Mimi Lau and Phoebe Zhang look at how censorship, silence and time have created a gulf between the young people who witnessed the events and those who came after them.


Beijing-based writer Ma Bo, better known as Lao Gui, remembers taking his six-year-old son to the heart of the Chinese capital and hoisting the child on his shoulders to get a better view.

In the spring of 1989, crowds of students had poured into Tiananmen Square to demand greater accountability from the government.

Ma, then a journalist and an active participant in the movement, was keen for himself and his son to witness history unfold.

Then the tanks rolled through the square in a bloody crackdown in which hundreds of people, perhaps more than 1,000, died.

“I never thought they [the government] would really launch a rampage,” he said.

“It was too horrifying … I could never forget it.”

For Ma, the memories of those days are clear. But for his son, the time is one to forget.

“I even took him with me to one of the demonstrations. He was only six or seven,” he said.

“[But] my son … doesn’t care about politics … There is no way I can speak to him about it.”

In the three decades since the “June 4 incident”, surveillance cameras have sprouted from almost every pole and security teams keep constant watch on the square. Where elderly people once flew kites, special forces officers now stand guard.

A great change has also taken place among the young, opening up a generation gap in awareness and interest in the crackdown. For some, the youthful liberalism of the parents has given way to pragmatism or nationalism among the children. For others, the personal price of discussion is still too high.
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