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  1. ITV Report

China prepares to remember Tiananmen Square massacre 30 years after pro-democracy protests

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Three decades on from the Tiananmen Square massacre, many in China are preparing to remember what happened - but not the country's regime.

Protesters had been gathering in the Beijing plaza for six weeks when the tanks rolled in, signalling the start of one of the worst atrocities in mainland China's modern history.

The protests came at a time of heightened public anxiety in China. The sudden death of the country's leader, Hu Yaobang, happened amid a backdrop of rapid economic changes which disadvantaged many. Inflation, corruption, the lack of freedom of speech, no free press and one party system were, and still are, major concerns for many.

Protests started in more than 400 cities across the country, at their peak an estimated one million people gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

But the Chinese government, concerned for the welfare of its ongoing role leading the country, took a hard line against the protesters - sending in the People's Liberation Army to break up the protests - with bloody consequences.

An estimated one million gathered in the square ahead of the massacre. Credit: AP

Li Xiaoming was one of the 300,000 soldiers mobilised on Beijng amid the protesters. Sent to Tiananmen Square, he exclusively told ITV News about the horrors he saw.

"I was a soldier who participated in that operation to the stop the July 4 democracy movement. I did not kill anyone, but I feel guilty.

"The initial order was quite clear, we were told not to shoot, anyone who fired first would have to take the consequences.

"But around 6pm or 7pm on June 3, we were given more guns and bullets, the order was very definite, we needed to reach Tiananmen Square at all costs.

Thousands of soldiers were sent to Beijing in the days head of the protests. Credit: AP

"Among the debris we found a pair of bloody trousers with a bullet hole in them and so many blood stained clothes but I didn't see any bodies.

"I could see the tank tracks and where they had crushed the railings around the monument in the square.

"What we did as People's Liberation Army soldiers, what we did was a crime, it was a massacre."

The country's government crushed the protests using force. Credit: AP

China's government does not publicly acknowledge what happened in 1989.

Instead, it focuses on trying to erase memories of 30 years. There are no official figures for the number of people killed, but it could sit in the several thousand. The families of those who lost their lives have never received justice or an apology.

At the start of May, China started a series of preemptive attempts to stop those believed to be planning celebrations of the dissident action's anniversary.

Some were removed from Beijing on enforced holidays, others reportedly detained.

Armed soldiers were sent to the square, initially they were ordered not to shoot. Credit: AP

Beijing prevents the reality of the situation being presented to Chinese citizens by blocking internet searches which would present information about the protests.

The filter is known by China commentators as the three Ts, blocking the reality of the government's human rights abuses. Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan are three of the country's taboo subjects - that's a stance unlikely to change.

Hong Kong Free Press reported earlier this week Chinese internet streaming websites will shut down on Tuesday, the date of the massacre's anniversary, for "technical reasons" - conveniently removing an opportunity for protesters to stage any demonstration online.

Instead the human rights situation under Xi Jinping's leadership continues to deteriorate - and the calls democratic reforms campaigned for thirty years ago go unheard.