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Chinese dissidents open world's only Tiananmen museum in NYC

In tiny office space in midtown Manhattan are displayed photos, videos, press clippings, posters, letters, and banners about the uprising
Chinese democracy movement activist Wang Dan speaks during the opening of a Hong Kong Protest Pavilion and new June 4th Tiananmen Memorial Museum in New York on June 2 ahead of the 34th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations around Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Chinese democracy movement activist Wang Dan speaks during the opening of a Hong Kong Protest Pavilion and new June 4th Tiananmen Memorial Museum in New York on June 2 ahead of the 34th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 03, 2023 06:31 AM GMT
Updated: June 03, 2023 06:39 AM GMT

Chinese dissidents who took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests unveiled a museum in New York on Friday dedicated to remembering the "democratic dreams of the Chinese people," two days ahead of the 34th anniversary of the uprising's "brutal suppression."

"The events of 1989 had an impact on China but also on the entire world," said Wang Dan, founder of the tiny museum and a leading figure in the Tiananmen Square student movement.

"Today, as we begin to wake up to the threat to human civilization posed by the Xi Jinping regime, we should remember back to 1989," he said, referring to China's current leader who cemented his grip late last year by assuming a historic third consecutive term.

In a tiny office space in midtown Manhattan, Wang had put on a display of photos, videos, press clippings, posters, letters and banners about the democratic uprising that Beijing crushed, killing at least 1,000 demonstrators.

"We should commemorate those who sacrificed their lives and remember the democratic dreams of the Chinese people at that time," said Wang, who served years in prison in China before being exiled in 1998 to the United States, where he later earned a doctorate in history at Harvard.

"Even in the United States, we still can feel the pressure and threats from the Chinese government," he told AFP.

"The 1989 events connect not only with the past but also with today and the future," Wang said, demanding that the world should "also remember the true face of the Chinese Communist Party."

Several leading Chinese critics and American politicians spoke at the inauguration of the museum -- the only permanent exhibition in the world on Tiananmen after the closure of a museum in Hong Kong in 2021.

The artistic flourishing that accompanied the Tiananmen commemoration in Hong Kong each year has almost disappeared under Beijing's tightening grip on the territory.

For more than 30 years, tens of thousands of people gathered every June 4 in Hong Kong's Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil.

But since China imposed a national security law in 2020, local authorities have shut down such gatherings, while criminalizing most public displays of dissent.

'We need to stand' 

In New York, a group of Chinese students living in the United States joined a march Friday evening through Manhattan between the new museum on Tiananmen and the Chinese Consulate General.

Some wore masks and sunglasses to avoid being recognized and potentially endangering their families back in China, an AFP journalist said.

Demonstrator Yuge Shi said it was "very important" to be able to protest.

"You know, the Chinese government kills so many people in 1989, and they don't want people (to) remember that," he said. "So every year we need to stand here and tell all the people in the world there is a history."

Shawn, a demonstrator who only gave her first name due to security concerns, said protests last year against China's strict "zero Covid" policies echoed those held in Tiananmen Square decades ago.

"It's been almost 40 years between the White Paper protests and the Tiananmen Square one, and yet we are still ruled by the same government whose nature hasn't changed (a) single bit," she said.

Widespread protests against Xi's strict "zero Covid" policy gripped China late last year. They were dubbed the "White Paper" protests because many demonstrators waved blank sheets of paper to symbolize censorship.

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