When is a Massacre not an Incident?

I’ve noticed an increasing and worrying tendency to refer to the Massacre, even in the international press, as the ‘Tiananmen Square Incident’. In fact, a friend’s Chinese teacher referred to it once as the Tiananmen Square Accident, and then tried to defend her choice of word! The actual ‘Tiananmen Incident’ took place in 1976. What took place was also a massacre, and certainly not an ‘incident’, whatever that means:

Things became rowdy, and inside the Great Hall of the People China’s rulers were alarmed. After consultation with Mao, it was decided to use force to clear the square. Mao authorized the use of force but not guns.

That evening when only a few thousand protesters remained they were driven from the square by militia armed with clubs. Four thousand were arrested. Sixty were dragged into the Great Hall of the People, beheaded and later shipped to Shanghai and secretly cremated.

It’s at best misleading to use this phrase to refer to the events of 1989, and at worst it plays right into the hands of the Chinese authorities in their attempts to have the massacre recorded in the history books of the world as something much more neutral and ambiguous than pure cold-blooded butchery of their own people.

I think this may have something to do with increasing Chinese Government influence in debates concerning human rights in China, and when it occurs I think it needs to be confronted and the fact that it was a massacre must be insisted on at all costs.

The saddest thing about all this is that the average Chinese student, despite seeming to spend every available minute online, probably has about as much awareness of the Tiananmen Square Massacre as the average British student has of the Tiananmen Incident. How foreigners can choose to go on living here year after year in the full knowledge of the extent of their students’ ignorance is truly beyond my understanding.

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