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Peking Uni: 15 years after Tiananmen

From CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz

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Tiananmen Square is still a symbol of the winds of change in China.

Today's Chinese students know little about the 1989 protests.

With China's booming economy, those who would not have returned home just a few years ago are changing their minds.
Beijing (China)
Civil Rights

(CNN) -- A student dorm at Peking University has a place in the unofficial history of the Tiananmen protest movement.

It was here where some student leaders organized their activities back in 1989.

History major Wang Dan, who became the most-wanted man in China after the Tiananmen crackdown, used to stay here.

Looking for Wang's old room, we ran into Tang Xuning, a 21-year old sophomore.

Tang is conversant in just about anything -- except Tiananmen. This history major says his classes do not discuss what happened in 1989.

"I don't really know anything about that period. I was too young," Tang tells us.

Tang was only six years old in 1989, when university students led street marches and hunger strikes in the capital's vast Tiananmen Square. They camped out there for weeks, protesting against corruption and calling for freedom and democracy.

Then, on June 4, the protest movement was brutally suppressed by military tanks and troops. Hundreds, perhaps thousands were killed.

"I am just not clear on what happened. I can't really say anything about it," Tang says.

Many Chinese youths can't either -- the result of an official blackout, a general weariness with politics and a prevailing thinking that defines economic progress and social stability as the human rights that matter.

"Fifteen years have passed, and during this time, tremendous achievements were made in China's reform, opening up and modernization," says Premier Wen Jiabao.

"I think a very important contributing factor is the fact that we have always upheld unity of the communist party and safeguarded social and political stability,"

Peking University had been a hotbed of democratic movements as early as 1919, and Tang says some of those ideals have not been abandoned.

"It's a tradition that Peking University feels is worth preserving. Perhaps the form is different, but the spirit is still there," he says.

For those who remember, and for those who learned about it outside the classroom, Tiananmen remains an inspiration, whether or not they can discuss it openly.

Tiananmen's legacy, says a Peking University alumnus, still resonates.
Education and career ads cover the university's walls -- a far cry from the political posters of 15 years ago.

"Many of the major issues that were first raised by students in Tiananmen Square back in 1989 are still just at the time -- corruption is there, and getting more serious; the disparity between the rich and the poor; and politically it (China) is not transparent," says Jiang Wenran, who graduated from Peking Univerist in 1981 with a world history major and is now an associate professor in political science in Canada.

But post-Tiananmen students are now focused on pragmatic goals, rather than a grand political agenda.

"You basically have to decide among options like going abroad, going to graduate school, or getting a job," Tang explains

While agitating for democracy may not be the way students today choose to make a difference, Tang says they are just as concerned with socio-political issues.

On the Internet, he says, they debate on current problems, including environmental protection and the gap between the rich and the poor.

And his plans after graduation?

"I'd like to do something to help the people of our country," he says.

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