Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, December 2, 2016

By Julie Makinen and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Stress kindness, value people, defend sincerity, worship justice, value harmony and seek an ideal world.

As the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters passed quietly, if tensely, Wednesday, two large video screens in the center of Tiananmen Square silently flashed a series of Communist Party slogans. No one here was supposed to acknowledge anything was out of the ordinary, but reminders of the extraordinary events of June 4, 1989, were in plain sight.

Troops in fatigues and helmets rode in white open-air jeeps, slowly lapping the plaza. Inside parked air-conditioned buses, scores of uniformed police cooled off until their next shift at security checkpoints. At the northeast corner of the square, a 36-year-old man with a scruffy mustache and a purple shopping bag struck up a quiet conversation with a Los Angeles Times journalist.

“You’re a reporter, right? They didn’t let you in, did they?” he said, almost under his breath.

Asked why he had come to Tiananmen on this day, he launched into a tale about his impoverished parents and other struggles of his family, despite the nation’s economic boom in the last quarter-century.

“Simple. I’m here because Xi Jinping doesn’t want anyone here today,” he concluded, glancing around a bit cagily after mentioning the Chinese president.

But how many others shared his sentiments — or even his awareness of the anniversary — was unclear. The state-run media do not mention it; China’s armies of Internet censors prevent any discussion of it; even some messages including the number “25” were blocked from social networking sites such as Weibo on Wednesday.

One Tiananmen visitor, a 24-year-old communications student, when asked if he knew what happened on the site 25 years earlier, replied with apparent sincerity, “No, what? I really don’t know.”

Another student of about the same age said he was “too young to remember” anything from that time, although he gave the impression he knew what had transpired.
Tourists seemed to understand that they were supposed to avoid the area. By late afternoon, the square had only a few hundred tourists and a far larger security presence. Armed police in khaki marched in formation. Plainclothes officers in pink polo shirts rode folding bicycles, and uniformed police in blue cruised on Segways. Undercover cops sported T-shirts tight enough to show off their biceps.

In the square, the party line kept flashing as small tour groups strode past the Monument to the People’s Heroes, an obelisk at the center of the plaza, just south of the video screens.

“To realize the Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation means realizing national prosperity and power, national rejuvenation, and people’s happiness.”

At the southeast corner of the square, a queue of several hundred people wilted in the sun, inching forward toward a security checkpoint. A man hawking rainbow umbrella hats tried to make a sale to the sweaty crowds. An infant, naked except for a T-shirt, wailed as his grandmother tried to entertain him. A young man in line, spotting a Westerner, asked: “Are you a journalist? Don’t waste your time.”

The line crept along for more than an hour. Police scrutinized each visitor’s national ID, checking each card with an electronic, hand-held scanner. Old women were body-wanded with metal detectors. Backpacks were X-rayed.

A Times reporter and two visiting friends from the U.S. were turned away after officers examined their passports, using a walkie-talkie to radio a supervisor with their visa numbers.

“You know why,” said one officer. “Come back tomorrow.”

AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez