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Copyright 2000 Agence France Presse  
Agence France Presse

June 3, 2000, Saturday

SECTION: Domestic, non-Washington, general news item

LENGTH: 562 words

HEADLINE: Tiananmen massacre crushed Chinese democracy movement, not activists

BYLINE: Sharon Behn


   Lian Shengde is about to go on hunger strike. Again.

It's been 11 years since Lian, riding on a wave of youthful passion and optimism, led thousands of students from his university into Tiananmen Square.

His action was repeated in campuses across China and within Beijing, until hundreds of thousands of students and supporters had crowded into the square demanding political reform.

It was May 1989 and Lian, like hundreds of others in the square, had repeatedly been on hunger strike, ending up with an intravenous drip in his arm six times while trying to negotiate with the government on the reform demands.

But the government refused to bend, and by the end of May the climate of optimism in Beijing was quickly beginning to turn.

"The government was showing no signs of concession and martial law was announced," recalled Lian, now in exile in the United States.

"I was in a hospital bed in Tiananmen Square talking about stopping the hunger strike." But it was too late.

On June 3 the military, riding tanks, stormed in, killing hundreds of students in a shocking massacre that quickly became a symbol of Chinese government oppression.

"I felt something like sadness, not fear, all else was gone, only sadness and a sense of powerlessness," said Lian, sitting in a paper-crowded office here earlier in the week.

Now he's planning to go on hunger strike on Saturday outside the Chinese embassy here, "to commemorate the victims of Tiananmen Square who senselessly lost their lives 11 years ago in a massacre initiated by the Chinese government."

Every detail of the days leading up to the confrontation and the months he spent in the notorious Qinchen prison afterwards are etched into this thin young man's mind.

"I feel guilty that I could not convince them all to leave" the square, the former computer science major turned student activist told AFP.

Visiting the hospitals afterward, seeing the bodies piled up in the hallways, talking to the wounded, searching for survivors, an outraged Lian put his organizational skills into high gear.

He mass copied press reports of the massacre and with a team of helpers gave them out to trusted people at the national train station to take into the countryside. "We had to let people outside Beijing know what had happened."

But 11 years later, it's hard to keep the names and purpose of those who died at Tiananmen in the international spotlight, and in Beijing the anniversary is unlikely to cause much upheaval -- most of the dissidents have been mopped up and thrown in jail or forced into exile.

As the US ambassador to Beijing, James Prueher said in Washington recently when asked about expected anniversary commemorations, "I think things will be all right."

But Lian is not about to give up that easily.

"Although the movement was physically crushed, many people still have the ideals, and there are still some activists advocating for changes and are brave enough to stand up in China."

"And we are going to speak for those colleagues who cannot."

Reflecting on the last 11 years and the changes in his life, he added: "I feel a sense of obligation to the voiceless in China, that I have to continue the fight, in a more professional and consistent way.

"I will never forget those friends in Tiananmen Square or their ideals, although many others have."



LOAD-DATE: June 3, 2000

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