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June 6th, 2014
12:07 PM ET

Bullets in Beijing: Tiananmen leader Shen Tong looks back

Shen Tong is a Chinese dissident who helped lead the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown, I asked him about his experience during the demonstrations, and the chilling moment when he realized troops were not shooting rubber bullets.

We also talked about a lack of awareness in China about what happened back then.

"It seems like there is a collective amnesia not only due to the lack of information but also due to at least this tacit agreement between the post-'89 police state and the urban population," he tells me via satellite from New York.

"'Let’s forget about the past and why rock the boat' because there are several groups of elite populations, not just in China, that are making so much money so quickly."

But Shen is certain that the collective amnesia concerning Tiananmen will inevitably lift.

"There are plenty of indications that collective memory, so important to the national psyche, cannot be forgotten," says Shen.

"So even though a lot young people don’t know the details... those memories can come back very quickly as we’ve seen time and again in history."

June 6th, 2014
10:07 AM ET

"Tank Man" and other Tiananmen memories

To many people, it's the defining image of the Tiananmen crackdown: a single man staring down a line of tanks.

"Tank Man" photographer Jeff Widener recalls what it took to capture that moment.

"I had to get a bicycle and go all the way down past soldiers and tanks and sporadic gunfire in the distance," Widener says. "And then you had to get past secret police, who were using electric cattle prods on the journalists if they didn't give up their supplies."

Of course, getting the photo out to the world was also extremely difficult. Click here to find out how he did it.

Widener also remembers the sense of hope among those student protesters in 1989.

"What struck me as something very dramatic was the building of the Goddess of Democracy," he says. "Because there you have the symbol of freedom, which is basically a duplication of the Statue of Liberty. And that is facing right across the street from the Mao portrait at the Forbidden City."

But, Widener adds, that he and other journalists wondered how long it would be until the Chinese government refused to tolerate the face-off any more.

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Filed under: China