Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — Today’s 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre may be repressed in China, but it brought back vivid memories for me of my trips there the past two years.
To visit the Chinese capital of Beijing you’d never know its powerful seat of government was anything but a national shrine and tourist attraction.
Like Canada’s Parliament Hill or The Mall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Tiananmen Square is bounded by the home of the Chinese Communist Party, the tomb where Mao Zedong is enshrined, and the Forbidden City where emperors once lived.
Chang-an Avenue runs through it.
That’s where “Tank Man” defied and defined the student democracy protest, which was “quelled” by troops who marched into the square the night of June 3 and after June 4 when several thousand protesters had been killed.
My partner Lois Cooper and I were there again this past fall walking across that avenue as part of a long-planned pilgrimage to pay our overseas respects to Gravenhurst native Dr. Norman Bethune.
He is buried at the North China Military Region Martyrs Cemetery in Shijiazhuang, 300 kms south of Beijing.
More on that in a later dispatch, as we mark the 25th anniversary of MuskokaTODAY.com.
We were on our second trip to the Far East country in as many years, as part of a tourism travel initiative.
We enjoyed our initial whirlwind bus-plane tour in 2017 so much that we had to return to add on a few more days beyond the typical two-week package.
Beijing being a focal point of this Sino-Canadian exchange half a world away, a trip to Tiananmen Square is a requisite part of such a visit, as it sits outside the Forbidden City, the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming and Qing dynasties constructed from 1406-1420.
Lois and I were there in October, the week after the China’s national holidays, where Chinese from all over the country flock to the ancient city to celebrate. The first year we were there 16 million people visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
So, while both times we missed the holiday just by days, we were able to experience the tail end of festivities and the immense and awesome pageantry that attends it without the mass of humanity.
In Tiananmen the centrepiece remained a three-storey floral bouquet that overshadowed the square, which is the size of 44 Canadian football fields.
There are massive statues to the People’s Republic leaders, including Zhou Enlai and Mao, who you can line up to see preserved.
I wish I had time to do that, as I did in Moscow when I was there in 1973 to see Vladimir Lenin.
Still, it’s truly moving to stand in large (yet relatively tiny) crowd of international tourists, and imagine back to when I was a 28-year-old provincial reporter, perhaps a few years older than many of the million demonstrators who jam-packed the square in the face of the imposing picture of Mao above the front entrance of the Forbidden City entance.
Especially coming from Canada, a bastion of democracy where Bethune was born blocks from my home and went over to China to help civilians and soldiers during the Sino-Japanses war.
But there are no memorials to the Chinese who died standing up for democracy.
Chinese tour guides — trained and licensed by the government — don’t flatly ignore the subject or shy away from questions by prying foreign guests.
It’s simply “part of our history,” they politely and unapologetically explain in perfect English.
But they don’t go out of their way to elaborate at any length.
They’re more interested in talking about the greatness of their emerging world power and extolling its history, its middle-class growth and its future, like the 2008 Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium we would visit later.
The Great Wall of China, to them, was not about keeping people in, but stopping invaders.
Tiananmen Square today is not so dissimilar in appearance to 1989.
But in a country where next door it celebrates a 600-year-old city that was once forbidden to all but emperors and their staff and is now open to the public, perhaps there is hope as the world hasn’t forgotten.
Much as we in the West will mark D-Day and what it means on Thursday, June 6.
Lest we all forget both.