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.

Thirty years ago a million people protested for democracy, and thousand died in Tiananmen Square. Today, the only reminder is a robo cop patrolling a tourism site crammed with tourists in the face of Mao Zedong at the Forbidden City. … Photos by Mark Clairmont and Lois Cooper, MuskokaTODAY.com

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.

Lois Cooper and Mark Clairmont in the shadow of a three-storey floral bouquet in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, on their return visit to China and the burial site of Dr. Norman Bethune.

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.

Security is an ever-present feature of Tiananmen Square, which many Chinese seem to accept as they carry on with their day.
Police presence is common around Tiananmen Square in this 2017 file photo; and was ever moreso today in 2019 the 30th anniversary of the massacre.
Lois Cooper looks at the iconic picture of Mao Zedong as she enters the Forbidden City in Beijing in 2017.
Tourists pass through the square, which is the size of about 44 Canadian football fields and is a hub for all kinds of public celebrations in China.
The Chinese Communist Party, the ruling government of the People’s Republic of China meets here at Tiananmen Square.
Pedestrians cross Chang-an Ave., where ‘Tank Man’ halted a column of tanks in a 1989 protest. He was taken away and never seen or heard from again.
Monuments are everywhere in Tiananmen Square, but their are no memorials to those killed June 3 and 4, 1989.
The Chinese Communist Party, the ruling government of the People’s Republic of China meets here at Tiananmen Square.
China’s annual national holiday week includes lavish displays in public spaces in Beijing, such as Tiananmen Square.
Crowds are year-round, as Lois Cooper found heading into the Forbidden City, which had 16 miillion visitors in 2017 when this photo was taken.
The final resting place of Chairman Mao Zedong is on one side of Tiananmen Square where you can line up to see him lying in state at certain times.
Pro-democracy pilgrims still make the silent trek to Tiananmen Square in memory of the ‘Tank Man.’
Tiananmen Square is a magnet for national and international tourists rain or shine.
A misty haze hangs over Tiananmen Square on a morning in October 2017 as tour groups prepare to line up to get into public buildings.
Lois Cooper, who has now travelled half way around the world twice, admires the imensity of Tiananmen Square in October 2018, during her second visit to Beijing.