Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Tiananmen in New Cross

25 years ago today (June 4 1989), tanks entered Tiananmen Square in Beijing to crush the protest movement that had occupied the square for the previous six weeks. In clashes around the city, and in other parts of China, hundreds of people were killed - the full number may never be known. As Lilia Zhang, who later studied at Goldsmiths  and lived in New Cross, has written: 'Whenever “1989” is mentioned, people in the West instantly think about the protesting students in Tiananmen Square. In fact, although it started in Beijing and was led by the students there, the democratic movement was a nationwide event, drawing together people from all walks of life'. Zhang herself 'organized a demonstration among the workers from my Nanjing factory in support of the movement' (Zhang is the author of 'Socialism is Great! A Workers Memoir of the New China).

Today's China is not monolithic and some personal freedoms have been won. As Zhang argues: 'There’s still a cage in China. But for many, my fellow marchers from Nanjing included, the cage has grown so big that they can’t feel its limitations. The movement in 1989 didn’t reach its final goal – to bring democracy to China. But I wouldn’t describe it as a total failure. Without the effort by the hot-blooded students and all those who participated, the rulers might not have expanded the cage'. But those who test the limits of this cage can still be summarily detained by the state, and the authorities continue to harrass people for trying to commemorate the 1989 movement and its bloody suppression. 

The movement in China prompted a wave of international solidarity. I remember taking part in a big demonstration in London, winding round Soho and involving large parts of the Chinese community. At one point we all sat down in the road. 

It was in this period that Goldsmiths Student Union building  in Dixon Road SE14 was named as the Tiananmen building. The building is currently being refurbished, and from outside you would hardly know that it was called the Tiananmen building at all - there is a sign over the entrance saying so in Chinese but not in English. No doubt the name is a bit of an embarrassment to some of  those now marketing Goldsmiths in China, perhaps too to a certain brand of 'leftist' for whom only the victims of the West are worthy of mention. There are no plans to change the name of the building,  but it would be nice for the refurbishment to give it a bit more prominence so that what happened in Tiananmen can continue to be remembered in New Cross. 

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