Mothers in China Demand a Tiananmen Accounting

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Grief at Tiananmen Square

Mothers mourning sons and daughters lost in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing have now launched through the Internet an appeal for worldwide support for their right to grieve publicly.

An on-line petition asks for support for Tiananmen Mothers, a group of more than 100 parents, spouses and relatives whose loved ones were in the square on June 4, the day of the incident. The petition’s website explains that it will be sent to Chinese officials and presented during the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The mothers group is using the petition to also demand the Chinese government permit the mothers’ organization to receive aid from Chinese and international organizations, release all those still in prison for their role in the demonstration, provide full public accounting of the events and end to what the mothers term persecution of those injured in the massacre and the families of the dead.

“I often consider the fact that people have only one life, only one,” said Ding Zilin, the founder of the mothers’ organization. “Life is sacred. But death is also sacred. If everyone could see life and death in this way, maybe we could decrease the number of calamities and massacres.”

Tiananmen Mothers grew slowly out of Ding’s and another mothers’ losses. Ding met Zhang Xianling after heavy rains exposed the bodies of the dead buried in a mass grave near the square, including that of Zhang’s son. The two befriended each other and decided to search for other victims’ families who shared their grief.

A year later a note appeared on the grave of Zhang’s son:

“We share the same fate. On June 4, I lost my husband. Now my son and I rely on each other for survival. There’s so much I can’t come to grips with. If you wish, please contact me.”

Ding began to defy the government’s censorship policies and told the story of her son’s death to a Hong Kong newspaper reporter, and then again to ABC News, this time adding a demand for the government to reveal what happened and the actual death toll.

Tiananmen Mothers has tracked down 160 victims killed or missing and 70 who were injured.

The mothers’ petition now has obtained endorsement from Amnesty International and organizations in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, the Netherlands, South America and Central America.

To date, the Chinese government has not provided an official accounting for the civilians killed and wounded. It calls the demonstrators violent subversives bent on destabilizing China and overthrowing the government.

The massacre at the square, named for the nearby Gate of Heavenly Peace, came at a time of growing economic hardship in China and popular discontent. Students and other demonstrators gathered peacefully in the heart of Beijing to protest official corruption and insist on the freedoms guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. Martial law was declared. The crowds were ordered to clear the square and, when they refused, soldiers opened fire, shooting some protestors in the back and running over others with tanks.

Three months after the massacre an article in the People’s Daily read “There were no deaths in the square.”

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