For Victoria Yu, June 4, 1989 changed everything.
That’s the day the Chinese military cracked down on student-led, pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The clash left hundreds of Chinese civilians dead with many more injured.
Yu, then a reporter for a Chinese newspaper in Sichuan Province, refers to Tiananmen as:
a direct cause for me to come to this country. After the event, there was a general sense of disillusionment. …The reporters, we went through study sessions and [had] to come clean as to what we did during that time. … I thought I would find a better environment elsewhere.
Today, Yu is the executive director of the Asian Education Foundation in Portland. She views Tiananmen’s legacy as “complicated” but noted that at “that point in time this kind of movement was inevitable.”
Other Chinese-Americans living in Oregon say their views have changed over the years.
Business consultant Ning Zhang was an MBA student at Oregon State University in 1989. He remembers being “high on emotion” while watching the stand-off and resulting bloodshed unfold on TV. He attended rallies, helped raise money and even wrote letters to U.S. Senators in support of the Chinese student protesters. But now, Zhang says, he sees the event as “totally preventable.” Communist party hardliners, he asserts, were forced into taking “a harder position” by the demonstrators. “One radical thing leads to another,” he says.
Many recent headlines focus on the apparent apathy of today’s Chinese youth toward what happened that day. So, 20 years later, what is Tiananmen’s true legacy? We’ll talk to individuals whose lives and work have been affected by the events of what is frequently described in the Western media as a “massacre.” Were you in Tiananmen Square that day? Did the event change your life in some way? How does it matter to contemporary China and its relationship to the West?
- Swan: the pseudonym for a Chinese-born Eugene woman who participated in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations
- Ning Zhang: Owner of Geoinformation Consulting in Corvallis and a former graduate student at Oregon State University during the Tiananmen Square crackdown
- Chen Xi: A second-year Chinese PhD student in U.S. history at the University of Washington in Seattle
- Jack Gabel: Organizer of the Tiananmen Remembered: 20 Years in Poetry and Music concert and a founding member of the Cascadia Composers
More Think Out Loud
OPB | Feb. 22, 2017