Jeremy Thompson: Tiananmen Square ... 19 Years On

Roundup: Talking About History

[Jeremy Thompson is a newsreader on Sky News.]

Much of it looks the same. A vast, 99-acre expanse watched over by the stern gaze of the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong, and flanked by the monolithic, Soviet-style structures of the Great Hall of the People and the National History Museum.

But today it was full of flowers and flags, a friendly gathering place for the Olympic visitors.

In 1989 fires were still smouldering, wreckage strewn across the concrete slabs, a stench of death and destruction in the air. It was the aftermath of what became known as the Tiananmen Massacre - the moment when the Communist Party leaders finally lost patience and stamped on the greatest expression of public discontent in a century.

Six weeks of student-led protests against slow political reforms, the lack of civil rights and growing official corruption were crushed by military force. Hundreds were killed. Nobody has ever been able to verify the number. Thousands more were thrown in jail.

And dissent disappeared back behind closed doors.

It seems incredible that the Chinese state has been able to overcome the sense of revulsion and condemnation felt by most of the world over that episode, and to secure the Olympic Games - less than two decades later. Many critics feel they don't deserve the honour, especially considering their human rights record.

But they have got the Games, whether people like it or not, and they have made huge progress economically since 1989. Many local Chinese people here in Beijing tell me their quality of life is certainly better these days and they enjoy greater social freedom. And there's no doubt they are enormously proud to be hosting the Games...

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