Twenty years ago today the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened in Beijing, China. As I watched a report about it on the news today, I became choked up with emotions about that day. I was just barely 18 years old and just about to graduate from high school, and I was also living in Hong Kong when the massacre happened. For weeks before tensions had been mounting, and although Hong Kong was a British colony at the time, there were demonstrations and protests going on all over the city in support of the pro-democracy protests occurring in China itself. I had attended one of the demonstrations where thousands of people peacefully chanted and listened to speeches about freedom and democracy.
Hong Kong had a lot riding on what happened in China at the time because within a few years the city-state was to revert back to Chinese rule, and many were nervous about how their own personal freedoms would be affected. Those of us expatriates, especially from the West, watched with anticipation to see what would happen. Student protesters had filled Tiananmen Square in Beijing and had even erected a Statue of Liberty. We all kept saying, "The Chinese government won't hurt them. They can't do it with the world watching." But they did do it on June 4, 1989. It was a Sunday, and we woke up to headlines in the Sunday newspaper that some of the student protesters had been killed at the hands of the Chinese government. My heart was heavy, but at this point we still thought it was just a few people who had been killed. We went to church where everyone was crying and emotional. Instead of the regular 3 hour block of meetings, we only met for an hour, and everyone went home.
My good friend, Jennie, was visiting me from the States, and we had heard that there was a massive demonstration against the killings going on close to my house. We went downtown and were overwhelmed to see a virtual sea of Hong Kong Chinese marching through the streets of Hong Kong. Jennie and I sat on a fence on the side of the street, and unwittingly became symbols ourselves of the freedom they were marching for. The demonstrators were chanting in Chinese "Freedom! Freedom!" but when they saw 2 American girls on the side of the street, they began to chant in English "Freedom! Freedom!" Thousands of people marched past us and grabbed our hands, "Thank you! Thank you!" they said. I have never been so overcome with gratitude for the freedoms I had taken for granted my whole life. Living in various countries growing up I had always assumed that I was entitled to protection and freedom simply because I was American. That day in Hong Kong I realized that freedom is NEVER free! That people died for us to have freedom in the United States and now people had died in China trying to bring freedom to their own people.
After we returned home that night we found out that more than 1 million people marched that day in Hong Kong, and also that possibly thousands had been killed in China simply for demonstrating for freedom. I learned in a very personal way that freedom is a blessing and a privilege. "We the people" are the ones who should be running our country, and as soon as the government becomes a power unto itself disregarding the will of the people, it is time for all who love freedom and democracy to wake from the slumber of complacence and realize what a blessing it is to be free. We are not entitled to be free simply because we are Americans; we are simply enjoying the results of what others fought and gave their lives for. We are not entitled to live free of terror simply because we are Americans; we have a responsibility to do all in our power to be able to live free from terror. I will always have a greater appreciation for the amazing gift of freedom that I enjoy and that so may in the world are still longing for.