On Tiananmen - "Maybe we don't want to know"


I met the photographer who took one of the famous 1989 "Tank Man" photos the other night. There is more than one photographer who took that photo - video and several stills, but I still was considerably paranoid as I left my apartment. All for no reason, it appears thus far.

The 20th anniversary of Tiananmen is upon us on June 4th. In Beijing, journalists lurk around, looking for stories, trying to find a new generation of people who are looking for the same things their predecessors were. Except they don't exist. At least not that I can find.

Person after person I've talked to, seem detached from the issue. Western media reports slam the Chinese government, accusing them of internet censoring, yet sites, such as Frontline's,"Do you Remember Tiananmen?" are wide open and accessible here. No doubt there is some censoring, but far less than you might think.

Here are just a few of the links I found when I googled (in Beijing, on my local internet) "Tiananmen Square + 1989"

And if you're thinking that I live in an area that has special internet access (a diplomatic compound etc.) let me assure you that I live in a local compound of about 2,000 Chinese people, 3 Russians, 1 Kenyan and 3 Americans. And me, I suppose. So no, I don't have special access. And yes, the internet blocking here is wrong, in my opinion, but I'm not seeing this giant black hole everyone keeps talking about.

Frankly, I'm tired of the "Chinese people can't access information" excuse. Ignorance is a common excuse given here, by both Chinese and Westerners.

"We never talk about it," said a Chinese friend of mine, who is in her mid-twenties. "We don't know anything about it."

I push her. I tell her I have access to stories on the internet, from photos to videos. I tell her if she looked hard enough, the information is there.

"But Katie," she says delicately. "Maybe we aren't looking. Maybe we don't want to know."

And in a moment, I know she's right. They aren't looking. And I'm not here to judge whether that is right or wrong.

It is what it is.

And every time I wander by the square I crinkle my eyes and yes, I get sad and emotional, just as I did in Northern Uganda and Sudan, and just as I did at Dachau and Auschwitz. But it's not my place to tell other people how to feel.

Disconnected. Detached. Ignored.

And that's what makes this anniversary so very strange, it seems.


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