‘Tell the truth about China!” has become a rallying cry for protesters in Hong Kong. It is exactly what demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square were saying 30 years ago, before many of today’s protesters were born. The truth is that for all China’s economic advances, it remains a brutal, dehumanizing tyranny in which the ruling Communist Party would rather destroy people than give them a genuine say in their government.
I was in Beijing in 1989. I witnessed the Tiananmen uprising and during the long night of June 3-4 saw soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army open fire on their countrymen. By dawn, Tiananmen Square had been cleared of the protesters who had occupied it for weeks. Tanks had supplanted their Goddess of Democracy statue.
I also spent weeks in Hong Kong this summer reporting on its protests, and I found the parallels chilling. Yes, Hong Kong is a different place in a different time under different circumstances. But in vital respects it is the same showdown. China’s dictatorship is once again losing control of a major city to people whose rallying cry is freedom. Rather than give in to their legitimate demands, the Communist Party is readying its guns.
Whatever comes next, the millions of protesters in Hong Kong have been doing the world a heroic service. Like their predecessors at Tiananmen, they are exposing on a world stage the brutality of the Beijing regime. From the only place under China’s flag where there is any chance to speak out, they are shouting the truth, day and night, in the streets and from the windows—while they still can.