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Students died with their bicycles near Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4, 1989. (Associated Press)
Students died with their bicycles near Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4, 1989. (Associated Press)

Tiananmen dream: Dead in one generation Add to ...

Ms. Ding's allegations that today's Chinese students aren't fully informed - or allowed to speak their minds if they are - are backed by a high-profile vote conducted by students in Hong Kong, a special autonomous region of China where free media is allowed and dissent is largely tolerated. After an awareness-raising campaign on campus in April, students at the University of Hong Kong voted 93 per cent in favour of a motion to condemn what happened on June 4, 1989, and to call on Beijing to apologize for killing pro-democracy demonstrators.

These things that happened 20 years ago are never going to happen again.

"The more important matter is to really learn about what actually happened and not just listen to what others say and not just blindly believe in one set of media," Jenny Ngai, the Student Union's acting external affairs secretary, told reporters. "In order to move your country forward, you have to learn about history."

Wang Dan, a first-year history student who emerged as one of the leaders of the protest movement back in 1989, is now 40 years old and still trying to raise awareness of what happened that day. He recently issued a call for all Chinese to wear white, a traditional colour of mourning, next week on the 20th anniversary, a call that few ordinary Chinese will hear because of a state media ban on discussing either Tiananmen Square or dissidents such as Mr. Wang.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wang, who was at the top of the Chinese government's most-wanted list after June 4, 1989, believes the pro-democracy camp can find hope in the changing attitudes of students and the fact the Chinese government can no longer completely hide what happened.

"More and more young generation [have]started to look for the truth," he said in an e-mail interview from Taiwan. "[Right now]there is no room for Chinese people to talk about politics. I believe once the political situation changes, the passion for politics will re-appear."

China's campuses are still indeed known to erupt from time to time. Twice in the past month, university students in major provincial centres have marched off campuses and blocked roads to show displeasure with local authorities. Photographs posted online of a large demonstration at Nanjing University showed students carrying banners written in Chinese and English, including one that read "Non-violent and Non-co-operation."

With some 6.1 million new graduates about to enter a suddenly bleak job market, joining more than a million from the class of 2008 who have yet to find work, the government is openly concerned that the days of Chinese student unrest are not over. "If you are worried," Premier Wen Jiabao told a student audience late last year, "then I am more worried than you."

But those Chinese students who know their history appear to have taken a dual lesson from the events of 20 years ago. They're horrified at what the government and army did, but they also assign plenty of blame to Mr. Wang and the protesters for pushing things too far, too fast.

The sense you get on Beijing University's campus is that the next student revolution, if and when it comes, will likely be a far slower-moving and more cautious affair than the students of 1989 had the patience for.

"I agree with these ideas, with freedom and equality. But still I think that what the government is doing might be good for this moment. We need to change things gradually," explained the 24-year-old cramming for his GMAT. "These things that happened 20 years ago are never going to happen again."

Then he furrowed his smooth forehead and stared back into his textbooks. "Actually, I don't know that. I really don't know."

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