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Panel Discussion – Tiananmen at 30
May 8, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Hao Jian, Professor, Beijing Film Academy
Louisa Lim, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne; Author, The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited
Wang Dan, Founder and Executive Director of Dialogue China
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History, University of California Irvine
Rowena Xiaoqing He, Current Member, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton; Author, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China
Transcript of Director Michael Szonyi’s Opening Remarks, May 8, 2019
Welcome to the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. My name’s Michael Szonyi. I am the director of the Fairbank Center and it is my privilege to introduce today’s session marking 30 years since the extraordinary events of May and June of 1989.
While we have called today’s session “Tiananmen at 30,” these events occurred not just at Tiananmen Square or even just in Beijing, but in cities all over China. These events culminated, as we all know, on June 4th, 1989 in a act of military suppression that took place not only, or even primarily in the square itself, but throughout the city and beyond.
Anyone could have predicted that this year, 2019, would be a sensitive year for anniversaries in China. As Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker this week, for the CCP, “certain anniversaries teeter between the emblematic and the problematic.” As things have unfolded, the year proved far more sensitive for far more anniversaries than we had anticipated. Problematic definitely outweighed emblematic.
Besides the 40th anniversary of the establishment of US-China relations, and the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, here at the Fairbank Center we’ve held events including a commemoration of 40 years of reform and opening up which we co-hosted and co-organized with the Unirule Institute of Economic. That event, we believe, proved to be one of the very last, if not the very last, public event for that very influential liberal think tank in China. We similarly commemorated the centenary of the May 4th Movement with a two-day conference organized by Professor David Wang. Some of you, like me, were at that conference and I think many of us who attended that conference were discouraged that, as one of our guests, Jeff Wasserstrom, pointed out in his long New York Times op-ed, a century after May 4th, a free and open discussion of that event and its significance remains impossible in China.
As with May 4th, so too June 4th. But even in a year of sensitive anniversaries, there’s something distinctive about the event we commemorate today, because of course there are no public commemorations at all of this event all in China. This is an event that can only be spoken of outside of China.
The Fairbank Center at Harvard is home for China studies in all forms, even, and in some ways especially when the topic is sensitive. We value our commitment to intellectual freedom to pursue questions and research that others might want us to avoid. It’s our responsibility to hold events such as today’s, both as an academic endeavor in the face of official suppression in China and as a mark of respect to those whose lives were taken or scarred by the events 30 years ago. The importance of our discussions on the CCP’s relationship with the Chinese citizenry is only elevated by the context of other human rights crises that are unfolding in China today, in particular the current crisis in Xinjiang, and this reinforces the importance of our persistent pursuit of truth in the face of repression.
May 8, 2019