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China's young ignore tragic Tiananmen

Tiananmen Square
The confrontation between government forces and pro-democracy activists happened nearly 12 years ago in China's Tiananmen Square  

June 4, 2001
Web posted at: 3:56 PM EDT (1956 GMT)


BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Luo Daiyou, a popular Taiwanese singer who crows about the pride of being Chinese, begins his set with a synthesized dirge.

Laser effects and the music pump into the open-air stadium. The audience sings and sways, waving glowsticks to the beat.

What also stands out are the cops seated around the racetrack inside the stadium.

They sit in folding chairs in neat pairs -- one man facing toward the stage where musicians set up in preparation for a concert, and the other facing the audience.

Even this clean-cut, affluent young audience cannot be trusted this time of year -- nearly 12 years to the day when tanks and troops moved into Tiananmen Square and crushed the pro-democracy movement.

Most of the people in the crowd have no memory of that bloody night.

At least in public, speaking to a CNN camera, those who were university students at the time insist that they weren't interested, they weren't there.

Twelve years after Tiananmen Square, the official verdict remains that a small number of agitators tried to use the movement to overthrow the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.

Few dare publicly debate that version of events.

Prosperity replaces the pain

Indeed Tiananmen Square taught the majority of Chinese that it's safer to just forget about the past. And most seem to have moved on anyway.

A university generation that followed the leaders of 1989 is a generation that strives for prosperity and leisure, goals a lot more appealing these days than pushing for political reform.

"I was born in the '80s, you see. We don't pay much attention to politics. We are terribly busy. I don't have any idea about any of that," says a vaguely irritated young woman in a bright red top and lipstick.

Others are willing to reach back into their memory. Was demonstrating on the streets a good way to get the demands of the time across to the government?

"Yes -- it was effective in reducing corruption. It raised peoples' awareness about the problem," offers a 29-year-old man who was a university student in Beijing at the time.

But answer questions about how the army dealt with the protests?

Better to say nothing at all. The interviewee quickly picks up his soft drink from the grass and moves off.

In the years since the student-led protests were crushed and an as-yet officially unaccounted-for number of people killed, a new generation of more conservative young people has emerged. They are intent on safeguarding their benefits.

Ideological impulses

"The current crop are less politicized. Their behavior is less driven by ideological impulse," says Jia Qingguo, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Beijing University -- the primary spawning ground for the student-led movement.

"They're more pragmatic, and probably in a way more mature."

And with more job opportunities, freedom of choice in their careers and increased chances to study abroad, a lot more to potentially lose.

"Probably students have in their mind the collapse of the Soviet Union, and developments in Russia in the 1990s. And of course, the Eastern European countries," says Jia.

"China compared favorably to the situations in those countries -- and China feels better in a way. Democracy is not a panacea to solve problems."

Not that China's young people have no desires for political expression -- Loyalty and devotion to China is a safe exercise, its more extreme forms allowed to flow freely through Internet chat rooms.

They roared into the streets of Beijing in May of 1999 when an American plane bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.

And after an American surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in April, state-run media went on a mourning frenzy for the pilot who had become a national martyr.

With a national sense of injustice at the hands of a bullying United States, the American-inspired Goddess of Democracy that faced off against Mao Tse-tung's image in Tiananmen seems irrelevant now.

Mao Tse-Tung was the Chinese Communist leader from 1949 to 1976.

There are Tiananmen-era activists still in jail, including some 30 members of the China Democracy Party.

Ren Wanding, CDP founder, is a veteran of prison who is now allowed to be interviewed by international journalists, as long as he doesn't hold press conferences.

He is among a handful of people trying to keep the spirit of respectful dissent alive.



slow, solemn, mournful piece of music; often accompanies funerals



abundance; having material wealth



one that stirs up feeling about controversial issues



impure, immoral



concerned with, based on ideas






practical; to relate to matters of fact



a cure-all; remedy



someone who gives up something of great importance, even their life, or who suffers for a principle



to disagree; noncompliant

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