The figure in this image, known only as "tank man," became a symbol of resistance. REUTERS/Arthur Tsang/FilesThe figure in this image, known only as "tank man," became a symbol of resistance. REUTERS/Arthur Tsang/Files

Every Nepali should know about the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident

30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident evokes different memories in me. To a large extent, the learning of the incident, and the resulting learning of the oppression of the Chinese regime has contributed towards shaping my political identity. Today, 30 years later, the context of the Tiananmen Square incident is still relative in the globe, and especially in Nepal because of our nation’s increasing association, and subsequent dependency with China.

What memories?

One of my first memories about Chinese occupation was in school, through the association of a Tibetan friend. The friend, for some reason, at the age of 14, was very keen on working towards ‘freeing Tibet’. He is still active, he tries organising protests, raising issues, all in a bid to generate awareness regarding the topic. I have a feeling his first success towards awareness could possibly be me, something which I haven’t thanked him yet for.

Nevertheless, many years pass, and I am attending university. In my class are some Chinese students and the topic of Tiananmen Square topic arises. I do have a vague recollection of some protests, about some song by System of A Down, but then am shocked to learn that the Chinese who grew in the same soil do not have the faintest idea. They are visibly shocked as they see the iconic photo of the man in front of the tank, the aftermath of the protests – it could very well be there first glimpse towards a different picture. The story does not end there – in our next semester, in another class we shared, the topic again arose – and this time one of the students shared another insight.

This girl, during her holidays, spoke of the incident in her home. The parents were shocked, scolded her for approaching the topic, and told her never to speak of it again.

These two incidents and a decent amount of research made me aware – unfortunately most Nepalis are not. One of the reasons for our acceptance of China is perhaps the dominant shaping of our ‘anti-Indian political identity’, however, liking a country without knowing the facts is foolishness. And that is where China excels in Nepal – it works towards suppressing anti-Chinese sentiments at its onset, take the increased surveillance in Bouddha for example. The media is under attack too – it won’t let us post anything against the Chinese administration – however, once a government is able to successfully undermine the media – consider democracy is lost.

This is why, it is all the more important for Nepali media to speak of the atrocities of the Chinese administration.

What happened at the Tiananmen Square? 

In a post-Mao China, problems were many – inflation, political corruption, severe restriction, etc. Therefore, to counter that several students from April 1989 started staging protests asking the government to become more democratic, allow more freedom to the press, and greater accountability. At the height of the protest, approximately 1 million people assembled in the square. To suppress the peaceful movement, the Chinese government declared martial law – in an horrifying experience troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the protesters. Death toll varies from hundreds to thousands.

On June 5th, the next day, a Chinese man stood in front of a column of tanks. He, who was later referred to as the ‘Tank Man’, continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. Unfortunately, the fate of the ‘Tank Man’ is unknown.


The aftermath of the incident might as well be considered today – Chinese citizens do not dare to speak against their administration, the press is the bullhorn of the government, and it is one of the least democratic nations in the world. Despite them claiming to be a communist nation, economic inequality is one of the highest and inclusion is nill.

Therefore, it is important we speak of this day today – the atrocities against the Uyghurs Muslims, the occupation of Tibet, the human right abuses are not reported enough in Nepal. Perhaps, when we speak of them, we could be contributing towards a more critical nation – one which attempts to hold China accountable when necessary.

Perhaps this article could be a start.

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