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Tiananmen Mothers Remember

3:40 PM, Jun 2, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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This Wednesday marks the 19th anniversary of the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. One of those gunned down in the mayhem was a young man by the name of Jiang Jielian. On the night of June 3, 1989, as the Chinese People's Liberation Army began clearing the Square, Jiang ignored his mother's pleas for him to stay home. He struggled out of her arms, ran to the bathroom, locked the door behind him, climbed out of the window, and headed toward Tiananmen. Jiang was shot in the back. The bullet pierced his heart and he bled to death. Twenty-four hours earlier he had celebrated his 17th birthday.

To this day, the Chinese government has not acknowledged responsibility for the killing of unarmed citizens; nor has there been an official tally of how many perished in what Chinese media refer to as "the political turbulence of 1989."

Jiang Jielian's mother, Ding Zilin, refuses to give up hope. Her only child's ashes rest in an alcove in the tiny apartment she shares with her husband. The 71-year-old former professor is the driving force behind Tiananmen Mothers, an advocacy group that regularly petitions China's leaders and members of parliament for an official apology and full inquiry into the shootings. Ding's persistence has made her a target of retaliation and intimidation. Over the years, she has been subjected to constant surveillance, frequent house arrest, and occasional detention.

Last Wednesday, Tiananmen Mothers launched the group's official website. The digital database includes a roster containing the names and bios of 188 known victims, a virtual monument in their honor, eyewitness accounts, and testimonials from members of the group on their long and tortuous ordeal.

The website also features two maps, the result of 19 years of painstaking documentation. One depicts the route along which the killings took place, debunking former defense minister Chi Haotian's claim that "not a single person lost his life in Tiananmen Square." The second map indicates the specific hospital locations where some of the wounded were taken and later died. Ding Zilin had hoped that the maps would help educate a generation of students too young to remember the Tiananmen Movement, while at the same time reviving long-buried memories of additional eyewitnesses so that these can be documented as well. More poignantly, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee had hoped that the maps would "awaken the conscience of the Chinese authorities."

Her hopes were soon dashed. Three hours after its launch, the Tiananmen Mothers website was blocked in China--as Beijing basked in praise for relaxing press and Internet censorship in the wake of the earthquake.